17 October 2021

Orchard | Bold Vision

Independent from Malaysia and Adoption of Currency Board
  • SG initially wanted joint currency with malaysia for trade and hope for unification; but Malaysia insisted that Singapore branch of joint central bank cannot own assets, which means SG to lose its reserves; plan fell apart
  • For SGD credibility, pursued currency board over central bank; currency board is like gold standard but pegged to hard currencies instead of gold; currency board countries do not have control over its credit (can only print as much as its reserve holding)
  • Under currency board, consequence of prolonged trade deficit is severe, so country can only survive if remain competitive; foreigners hold SGD will redeem reserve currency; losing reserve currency causing credit contraction → unemployment → lower imports → restoring trade balance
The Sterling Crisis and End of Bretton Woods
  • 1967 Sterling devaluation
    • Confidence waning for post WWII Britain to repay its debt; series of speculative attacks led to 1967 gov devaluation of GBP from 2.8USD to 2.4USD, and later 1972 complete floating; this essentially voided the agreement with Sterling reserve countries 
    • SG had previously quietly shifted GBP reserve from 90% to 50% of total, mostly to USD, Gold, and currencies of other account surplus countries; Department of Overseas Investments formally formed 1969 (later MAS) to manage diversified reserve investments
    • Later GIC (investment management) separated from MAS (exchange rate stability)
  • 1971 End of Bretton Woods
    • Created by Keynes, Bretton Woods is a system where world economies peg their currencies to USD while USD fix to Gold; facilitated post war economic recovery
    • However, in late 1960s world is divided into countries with perpetual payment surpluses (Germany, Switzerland, Japan) and ones with deficits (US, Britain, France); countries were resistant to altering their exchange rates to bring back payments equilbrium
    • Meanwhile, under President Johnson's Great Society program + Vietnam War, expansionary policies & fiscal deficits → USD pilling in surplus countries, and US faced a "run on Gold"
    • Speculative flows into hard European currencies; German Bundesbank suspended further purchase of USD, officially allowing the mark to float; first nation leaving Bretton Woods
    • 1971 Nixon suspended dollar convertibility to Gold; Gold price became free floating
    • Root cause of the collapse: lack of international coordination and US unwillingness to carry the world economy
    • 1970s stagflation. OPEC 4 times oil price to make up for USD deperciation → inflation; Gold price rose 18 times

20 September 2021

Gates | How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Why Zero

  • Global average temperature have +1 degree Celsius since industrial age; a little is a lot, Ice Age –6, dinosaurs age where crocodiles at arctics +4; on current trend, +3 by midcentury, +4 to 8 by 2100
  • Effects we are seeing: increased rainfall near oceans (as water evaporates) and droughts on land (as soil loses water); more wildfires; rising sea level (heat expands seawater + polar ice melting); decreased biodiversity etc
  • 51bn tons world annual emission of CO2 equivalent, 37bn CO2, 10bn carbon; on current trend, +50% by 2050

This Will Be Hard

  • Urbanization. World's building stock (number of buildings and their sizes) to double by 2060; every month a NYC for 40 years; people's living condition will continue to improve and energy consumption per capita will increase
  • Energy industry inertia. Fossil fuel has become an extraordinarily efficient power source (high power density, affordability, reliability); from investment POV, large capital outlay, long investment cycle, existing infrastructure; absence of Moore's law (exponential progress) in energy technology eg cars and soalr panels
  • Lack of global consensus. Two alternative narratives: 1) climate investments to make ways for healthcare & education; 2) we have all we need (EV, solar panels), just need to deploy them, no need to invest in breakthrough technologies; Paris agreement target reduction of 12% by 2030, not ambitious goal but showing global cooperation is possible

Framework to Evaluate Climate Ideas

  1. Which area of emission is targeted (area – CO2 share)? And how much % of 51bn tons are you aiming to reduce?
    • Making Things (cement, steel, plastic production) 31%
    • Plugging in (electricity generation) 27%
    • Growing Things (agriculture) 19%
    • Transportation (planes, trucks, cargo) 16%
    • Temperature control (heating, cooling) 7%
  2. If it's electricity generation, how much watts (joule per second)? The world 5000 gigawatts, US 1000 gigawatts, city 1 gigawatt, a house 1 kilwatt
  3. If it's electricity generation, how much land space do you need / power density?
  4. How much is green premium ie additional cost to go green?
Making Things
  • Reinforced concrete (concrete bricks with steel rods) in buildings, bridges
    • Concrete = cement + water + sand and gravels; cement is made by burning limestone (calcium + CO2); 1 ton of cement releases 1 ton of CO2
    • Steel = pure iron + carbon; pure iron is made by melting iron ore (raw) with coke (coal), releasing CO2 in process; 1 ton of steel releases 1.8 tons of CO2
  • Other materials: plastics (cheap byproduct), fertilizers, glass, paper, aluminium
  • 3 areas where CO2 emission occur in manufacturing and their solutions
    1. electricity needed to run factory – solutions refer to Plugging in
    2. burning of fossil fuel to heat up eg iron ore – electrification
    3. CO2 released in the chemical process – carbon capture
Plugging In
  • Challenges
    • Our demand for reliability vs intermittency of solar/wind/hydro power – high and low swings both bad, causing fluctuation of power cost / strain on power grids
    • High relative cost of transmition (eg from sunny to cloudy area) and storage (battery)
  • Generating energy (besides fossil fuel, solar, wind, hydro)
    • Nuclear fission and soon fusion. Best carbon free alternative – only option that provides steady supply 24/7 at large scale. Needs much less land / concrete steel glass c/p solar, hydro, wind (note: making stuff emits CO2). Nuclear power accounts 20% US electricity, 70% for France 
    • Offshore wind. More steady supply, getting cheaper
    • Geothermal. Pumping water underground to absorb heat from hot rocks, and come out another hole; not land efficient
  • Storing energy (besides storing directly in lithium battery, which efficiency hard to improve)
    • Turning electricity power into various other forms of power (pumped hydro, thermal, cheap hydrogen) then release it back to electricity when needed; all experimental, energy loss along the way
Growing Things
  • Livestocks. Cow releases methane in burp/farts as it digests grass; poop releases nitrous oxide when it decomposes; both are many hundred times more harmful than CO2
  • Fertilizers. Making (heating, transportation) and applying (unabsorbed nitrogen releasing to air) fertilizers releases GHG
  • Planting trees is overrated; only absorbs 4 tons over 40 years per tree, but once burned down, all released back to air
  • Solution in sum: electrify all cars, and use alternative fuels (biofuels, recycled liquid carbon fuels) for the rest, as batteries too heavy for planes & cargo
  • Beyond EV: hydrogen fuelcell cars. Hydrogen can be isolated from eg methane; mix with oxygen can product electricity & heat, release only drinkable water – process called electrolysis; electricity via hydrogen allows faster recharge than EV battery cars, but after electrolysis, compression, transportation etc. lose 70% of energy
    • Hydrogen fuelcell also a solution for renewable energy storage – converting to hydrogen first

15 September 2021

Strangio | In the Dragon's Shadow

China and SEA Overview
  • 11 nations (SEA mainland + maritime); 650m population; $2.8TN fifth largest economy after US, China, Japan and India; diversity in every aspect
    • Mainland vs Maritime SEA distinction. Maritime SEA had much less contact with China until recent, as China after Zheng He (Muslim) abandoned its Navy projects
  • Strategic importance of SEA to China. China, benefited from US security order, does not seek to replace US hegemony, but only national rejuvenation; restoring "natural place" as center of the Asia order; east side constrained as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines all US Navy allies, while northwest are Russian clientele states; hence turning SEA and strait of Malacca where 80% of Chinese oil important and majority of trade go through 
  • China SEA history. Historically, China dominated SEA until Western imperial rule and the subsequent awakening of SEA nationalism. Following WWII, Mao alienated SEA by turning it into his communist revolutionary laboratory; until Deng repairing relationships through trade & creating new strategic front against Soviet Union; later after US withdraw in Bush years launching soft power "charm offensive" to fill vacuum; then recently Xi assertive diplomacy
  • 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Chinese generous support vs US nonreaction and IMF harsh diktats; most importantly China refrained from devaluing RMB; further doubt casted on US Liberal Capitalism after 2008 financial crisis
  • Chinese diaspora mainly in mid 1800s when overpopulation, famine and European invasions pushed Fujian Guangdong families abroad (California, Central America, SEA); Chinese became the Jews in SEA (and Singapore the Israel); at the time few considered themselves Chinese (but Hokkien, Twochew) until downfall of Qing dynasty awakened Nanyang Chinese nationalism; later during Chinese civil war both CCP and Kuomintang courted overseas Chinese, alarming SEA states over sovereignty; discriminatory laws and riots followed; identity & loyalty of Chinese ethnic minority (especially the more recent, educated migrants) remains a sensitive issue today 
  • Yunnan as China's window to SEA. Casinos and vice trade in the Golden Triangle: drugs, weapons, endangered animals, human trafficking
  • China's control of Mekong headwaters. Mekong upstream dam building allows China (water shortage) to reap the benefits of hydropower while exporting environmental costs downstream eg drought, fishing decline; tremendous political leverage over SEA especially in dry season
  • Ambivalence. Caught between US China rivalry, SEA attitude is ambivalent, unwilling to commit to either side and distrust to both systems (liberal capitalism and state capitalism); distrust of China due to historical subjugation, and US due to feeling of neglect & US involvement elsewhere; compares to cold war era's neutrality (open nonalliance stance) when forced to choose based on ideology
  • US still largest foreign investor in SEA where it facilitates (banks, consulting, tech) whereas China builds (construction, railways, BRI)
  • Region's biggest adversary of China; stands to lose the most from China's claim of South China Sea
  • Striking a balance between US and China, both previous wartime enemies; greatest fear is US and China cut a deal, and throw Vietnam under China's sphere of dominance
  • China's staunchest ally in SEA; greatest threats come from Thailand and Vietnam
  • Khmer Rouge regime, supported by CCP, US and ASEAN, was driven out by Soviet backed Vietnam invasion in 1979; then Cambodia became an international liberalization project under UN; leading to a "democracy on face value"; root of disdain for Western intervention
  • Left out of Obama's pivot to SEA and held to higher standards than other authoritarian regimes in the region; hence Hun Sen (leader) turning towards Chinese money and tourism
  • Decade of political impasse between Thaksin, 2001 elected former PM in exile (yellow), and urban royalist establishment (red), ended in 2014 with military coup and rule of Prayuth
  • Historically largest US ally in SEA, increasingly turning to China since Thaksin. 1997 Asian Financial Crisis US bailed out Mexico but not Thailand; removal of "Thailand Hands" to middle east during Bush; and Obama's sanction, as per US law, following the coup; no interest in South China Sea
  • History of narcotics economy and military rule; regime compared to Iran and North Korea
  • Western sanctions forced Burma to heavily rely on China; until it stoked security concerns; since 2004 juntas began reform to give themselves more options
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, Oxford educated long-time opposition leader, elected to majority in 2015 and marked the country as becoming a democracy; Obama lifted sanctions; Japan, EU, US rushed in to compete with China's monopoly of FDI; until her "fall from throne" after Rohingya
  • Rohingya Crisis is a legacy problem of British Imperialism as Burmese borders were arbitrarily drawn across ethnic lines to facilitate administrative convenience, and the Imperialists favored Indians over ethnic majority Burmese, causing the later independent Burmese state to adopt a Chauvinist Buddhist regime
    • The "crisis" or "cleansing operation" by the military & Buddhist vigilantes target "muslim Bengali militants and illegal migrants", collectively "Rohingya"
    • Western sanctions again turned Burma to the support of China, who has an interest in border security, preventing it from spilling to Yunnan and maintain orders for local infrastructure projects
  • 1MDB scandal. Najib government setup fund in 2009 to invest in green energy and tourism. 2015 WSJ reported $680m of fund flowed to Najib's personal account. Large protests & US asset seizure led Najib's 2018 defeat by PH, opposition coalition led by Mahathir
  • After 1MDB, China stepped in for relief on many BRI projects and helped paying debt to foreign investors; Malaysia was in danger of becoming a Chinese clientele state
  • Racial division. Ethnic minority Chinese Malaysians historically under persecution; declining both in population, and economic power since China's rise (as Malays are learning Chinese); state's fear of China bailing on its promise of noninterference with local Chinese Malays
  • Sukarno. 1957 Sukarto, hero of independence struggle against Dutch, rose to power and pivoted left, became third largest Communist regime; US backed Indonesian military led by Suharto overthrew Sukarto in 1965; mass killing of PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia); major cold war turning point
  • Suharto. During Suharto 30 year dictatorship, banned from office and military, ethnic Chinese dominated commerce; it was astute politics: Suharto regime extracted the prosperous Chinese whom without political power, while governed indigenous Indonesian whom lacking economic strength
  • 1997 Asian Financial Crisis led to anti ethnic Chinese riots, and forced Suharto to resign; post 1997 warming relations with China, after China's financial assistance to IMF and restrained response to the riots
  • Jokowi. Indonesia is now major commodity exporter to China, and major overseas market of Chinese consumer goods & tourism spending; with 4th largest population, only SEA country to counterbalance China, but historically Indonesia is inward looking, weak Navy; Jokowi lack IR experience; welcomed Chinese infrastructure
  • Historically strongest regional US ally and deep US influence: cultural (basketball, fast food), economic, military
  • High population growth and large overseas remittance (10% population) masks GDP growth
  • 2012 filed complaint to Hague Arbitration Court under Aquino over China's maritime claim; China responded by restricting tourist outflow and Philippine fruit imports
  • Duterte. Rose from war on drugs in Davao where now her daughter is carrying on the legacy; sharp turn to aligning with China; tired of US double standard calling his gangster killings murders while blind eye on its own "collateral damage" in Afghanistan etc.

07 September 2021

Carreyrou | Bad Blood

Red flags for corporate scandals
  • Technologies / breakthroughs too good to be true. Promise of cures, quick results, radical changes etc. are music to the gullible human ears; we as beneficiaries of the rational revolution since the Enlightenment are extremely prone to be disillutioned by "science & technology"
  • High employee turnover. Especially at key technical (R&D, lab head) and executive level
  • Culture of absolute loyalty. Employees are demanded 100% devotion to a "glorified mission"; juniors are brainwashed / intimidated into conformity; realists are dismissed as disbelievers
  • Secrecy to both inside and outside. Avoidance of media exposure; aggressive NDA signings; aggressive protection of "intellectual properties"
  • Nepotism & innercorporate personal relationships. Hiring close relatives or "inner circle" because trust & loyalty are more important than competence
  • Disproportionate reliance on H1B workers. Foreigners on work visas have more to lose to speak up & less likely to complain or leave the firm
  • Nonexpert celebrity board / endorsement. Retired statesman, military officers, former execs from unrelated industries, lawyers, professors
Other notes
  • When you strike a King, you must kill him. Elizabeth convinced the board to keep her when they initially decided to replace her, but not immediately, until finding a suitable candidate. Should have been more decisive and fired her right away
  • Industrial organization: market leaders have less FOMO. Walgreens, under FOMO, partnered with Theranos despite being skeptical. In market competition, pressure is on the second/third place players to catch up, where market leader can afford delaying an attack

26 July 2021

Taleb | Fooled by Randomness

  • Results from luck are more prone to be taken away by luck; results achieved with less luck are more resistant to randomness.
  • Skewness issue: it does not matter how frequent a person succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.
  • Retired Dentist Checking Portfolio Returns
    • Difference between noise and meaning: all observations are at best a combination of return (meaning) and variance (noise); and on a short time increment, it is entirely variance.
    • News is full of noise, where history is largely stripped of it; however, it does not mean that histories are good indicators of the future. Length and breadth of history considered matters.
    • We do not react to positive and negative noise equally. Even if the distribution of noise is symmetrical, the emotional torture from short term negative noise is felt far greater than their positive counterparts. Paying attention to short term noise, on balance, lead to emotional deficit. Hence, stay away from noise.
  • Importance to understand the mean and variance of any field: dentists and pianists face much less career randomness; the jungle where traders live, on the other hand, is ruled by randomness.
  • Cross sectional problem or survivial of the least fit: at a given time in the market, the most profitable traders are likely ones best fit to the latest cycle (eg “dip buyers” of EM and HY bonds 1992 to 1998); if the latest cycle dynamics are random, these traders are also by definition most prone to a randomness reversal or regime change
  • Traits of bad trader: married to position; switching narrative (become “investor” just to hold on to losing bets); no game plan for losing times as such periods are deemed too improbable
  • Bull & Bear Zoology: bullish and bearish only suggests view on direction, but not magnitude... I can be bullish on a stock yet shorting it, because of asymmetry of payoffs. What informs a trading decision is a prob distribution table. TV commentators use these terms because they are rewarded only by the frequency of their correctness but not magnitude
  • Separating risk taking and risk management decisions where risk taking is informed by past data but risk management is not ie prob of some events occuring are not derived from past data.
  • Randomness does not mean patternless and most often it does not look random; purposefully creating randomness is a paradox and it never works
  • Humans have evolved as a separate species for 130,000 year, majority of which is spent in the African savannah where field of probabilities is narrow – information transmission is limited by physical distance; limited number of people we meet over a lifetime etc. Later on, even when probabilitic fiend widened over history, religious suppression of any thought contrary to determinism has delayed the development of probability studies. Hence, our brains have never acquired the proper probabilistic depth to deal with the complexity of modern world. E.g. when only one of two outcomes will occur, we can not imagine an outcome that is the linear combination of the two – a vacation spend 50% Bahamas and 50% Paris, or a cancer patient 28% death and 72% survival. To the patient, he only sees himself dying or survive. This inability causes us to make irational choices.

24 July 2021

Lewis | Flash Boys

  • Flash Boys is a book about the different insidious ways financial intermediaries (brokers, banks, HFTs), which by definition the conduit supplying societal capital to productive enterprises, extract ilegitimate profits from investors order information.
  • Electronic Trading: bank department in charge of programming and selling algorithms that execute buyside trades when they submit orders.
  • Dark Pool: private exchanges ran by large brokerage banks where large buy and sell orders are matched first internally before broadcasted on public exchanges. Conflict of interest: banks prefer executing first in their dark pools rather than seeking out best price in the market. Banks can also sell access to their dark pools, and thus information of large orders, to HFTs.
  • Payment for order flow (PFOF). Exchanges (NYSE, BATS) and market makers (Citadel Securities, Virtu Financial) pay brokers to send over their client orders. This revenue source has allowed brokers to slash commissions to zero, benefiting investors. However, conflict of interest: brokerages, instead of seeking for "best execution" in the interest of the investor, now maximizes kickbacks when making "routing" deicisions.
  • Take and make liquidity. Company A is trading at $5.0 $5.5. A market order at $5.5 is said to take liquidity or cross the line; while a limit order of $5.4 is said to add liquidity and is rewarded when met with an opposing sell order.
  • Spread Networks and CBSX exchange in Chicago. Spread networks build the straight fiber line connecting Chicago and New Jersey. The day when it went online, CBSX exchange flipped its fees and kickback structure – paying brokers for taking liquidity (market orders) and charging fees for adding liquidity (limit orders). Explanation: paying is to incentivize brokers to route market orders first to Chicago (to be frontrun by HFTs using the fiber line), and charging is to extract HFT firms fees for laying limit teaser orders (100 share lots) as exchange is now allowing them to profit.
  • Latency Tables. HFTs can also decipher from which specific broker is an order made by identifying patterns in latency, i.e. the time it takes for an order to travel from a broker to all exchanges; and use the info to guess e.g. whether more of the same order is to follow.
  • Reg NMS of 2007 updated the broker mandate from "best execution" to "best price" defined by NBBO (National Best Bid and Offer). "Best price" mandate caused orders to be routed to more exchanges (from most favourable price to next, regardless of volume) and therefore creating more HFT arbitrage opportunities. Less discretion for brokers also made their routing more predictable.
  • NBBO is calculated inside SIP (Security Information Processor) where each exchange's prices are transmitted, compiled, and disseminated. Greater the number of exchanges, longer it takes for NBBO to be calculated. HFTs game this system by creating faster processers than the SIP technology to have a more "real time" view of the market, and therefore, frontrun investors who trade based on SIP prices. HFTs profit depends on 1) time gap between SIP and private prices; 2) volatility of stock during these milliseconds (or how many times the SIP price and private prices differed). This is why HFTs is incentivized for more market volatility, and more exchanges.
  • HFT Strategies
    1. Electronic Frontrunning: obtaining an investor's order information at one exchange and race him to next
    2. Rebate Arbitrage: seize the kickbacks exchange offered without actually providing the liquidity that the kickback is meant to entice
    3. Slow Market Arbitrage: seeing price changes at one exchange, and race to act on another exchange before its price can update
  • HFT profits were made possible by fiduciary failures of banks and brokers. Banks, upon receiving an order to its dark pool, willingly ignores offers from rest of the marketplace so that can charge HFTs access to bridge the gap. This creates unnecessary layers of middleman and increases transaction costs.
    • The chance of offsetting orders (200 shares buy and 200 shares sell at $80) coming to the same exchange at the same time is extremely low. Therefore HFTs are said to benefit investors by providing liquidity – being the buyer on one exchange and seller on another. However, this bridge is itself absurd as why was the order not brought to the right exchange in the first place? Becuase brokers respond to rebates.
    • "The original false note struck by the big Wall Street bank – the act of avoiding making trades outside of its own dark pool – became the prelude to a symphony of scalping."

22 June 2021

Wu | The Attention Merchants

  • Premise. Our attention is the very experience of living. Reclaiming it – not parting it as cheaply and unthinkingly as we're used to, is to avoid a life of enslavement by propagandas and the pervasive consumer & celebrity culture.
  • For majority of human history, organized religion had a monopoly on human attention – until its decline. With advent of Capitalism in late 1800s, commercial attention harvestors, especially the advertising industry, emerged to fill the vacuum. In fact many agency copywriters came from families with preaching / church backgrounds. Cooliage even called advertising "ministers to the spiritual side of trade."
Who were the attention merchants? What were their specialities or innovations?
  • Benjamin Day and The New York Sun / Penny Papers. Selling newspaper with clickbaiting stories at price below production cost to cheaply amass large readership, and sell them en bloc to advertisers. Readers are no longer the customers but the product.
  • Parisan posters. Harvesting attention requires appealing to our "reptilian core" part of the brain that are particularly susceptible to attention triggers: startling images and evocative words eg babies and monsters, sexualized bodies.
  • Clark Stanley and The Snake Oil / Patent Medicine. Human face as branding (Aunt Jemima, Quaker Oats). Promises too good to be true. Secret ingredient that differentiates the product from rest. Direct mail advertising (spaming). For the first time advertising was thought to be standalone a method for "value creation"; and soon later, a subject of science. Eventually patent medicine was busted by journalism. Public outcry and pass of legislation to curb false advertising.
    • "For our secular rationalism and technological advances, potential for surrender to the charms of magical thinking remains embedded in the human psyche, awaiting only the advertiser to awaken it."
    • Patent medicine later inspired the advertising campaigns for cigarettes. Lucky Strike, sells to women, claimed to cure bad breathe, cause weight loss and be a symbol for female liberation. Same outcome – busted and public outcry.
  • Pioneers of scientific advertising. Scale and accumulated expertise cemented a breed of established brokers for the new attention economy. Corporate advertising expense rose from $700m in 1914 to $30bn in 1929, or 3% of GDP. Also role of psychology, Freudian view of the unconscious, behavioural science.
    • Claude Hopkins, demand engineering. Selling not new product to solve existing problems, but new problems where they did not exist before. Toothpaste and mouthwash. "Reason why" advertising.
    • Theodore MacManus of General Motors, branding. Inspiring consumers to identify with their purchase. Projecting a character, e.g. an honest manufacturer and an honest product. Today Cadillac has become a general adjective for things premium / best in their kinds.
    • Helen Landsdowne, target advertising. Capitalism awakes to women's control of household wallets. Selling of emotion, imagination, and women's rights movement. Women are in particular sensitive and tend to imitate the rich and famous – birth of paid endorsements.
  • Radio: William Paley of CBS, David Sarnoff of NBC. Intrusion of sacred family space & time via the creation of "evening prime time" (and later "morning" and "late night" segments in TV) where the entire household across the nation tune in to a programme. Radio, previously conceived only for the public good (for occupying the public airwaves), became commercial. Paley's offer to provide CBS inhouse programmes for free on the condition of radio stations to also carry sponsored content – parallels the penny paper's approach earlier to acquire mass audience. Limit ads to 10% of airtime to walk the fine line between profit and stirring public rage.
  • Emails and "Check In". B.F.Skinner, all behaviours are developed via operant conditioning (reward & punishments). Inconsistent and unpredictable rewards & punishments are more effective at reinforcing a behaviour e.g. gambling, fishing, shopping (variable reinforcement). World's first mass email blast – Thuerk of DEC annoucing a new product launch. Ran into trouble with Pentagon.
  • Celebrity Industrial Complex. Human's craving to worship and be connected with the extraordinary (heroes, saints, royalties) is not new; what is new is the construction of entire industry based on such demands. Hence the talk shows, personal interviews – creation of artificial intimacy and illusion of accessibility. Celebrities also awakens to the power of their fame, not merely a byproduct of their professional activities but the very professional capital itself.
    • "On whatever platform was to be invented, celebrity would become the attention merchant’s go-to bait, offering a lure infinitely more dependable than any more artfully developed content."
  • Instagram, democratization of fame and the "celebrification" of everyday people. For most of human history, the prolifiration of individual likeness was preserved for the extraordinary e.g. the emperor. In the 20th century, Hollywood broadened this priviledge to a cohort of demigods. However, with smart phones, selfie sticks and Instagram, the power is now in the hands of every enterprising Narcissus. Tapping into our instinctual need for admiration from others and bringing it to the logical extreme, to millions of people we won't possibly know. 

19 June 2021

Sandel | The Tyranny of Merit

  • Christian roots of meritocracy
    • Paradox in Catholic Church. Can people earn salvation through religious observance and good works, or is God entirely free to decide whom to save? First option is just, but would bound God to recognize merit and therefore limiting His omnipotence.
    • Luther, Calvin, and Puritans. Though began as observance to the glory of God, religious rituals inevitably prompts a sense of efficacy among participants as means to attain grace. Ethics of work and mastery of one's fate eventually wins out the ethics of gratitude and humility
    • Connection with Adam Smith. Calvinist notion of providence and divine predestination ie "the calling" lends credibility to division of labor and the prevailing economic order. Christian asceticism "strode into the marketplace of life and slammed the door of monastery behind."
  • Plato's idea of noble lie. Public beliefs that are untrue but nonetheless important to uphold to sustain civil harmony; eg the American dream, the nobility ruling class.
  • Debunking Credentialism and Technocracy. 
    • Governing well requires practical wisdom, character, civic virtue, political judgement, and ability to deliberate about the common good and pursue it effectively – none of which taught at universities nor correlates with high SAT scores.
    • Technocratic rule disempowers ordinary citizens from participation.
    • Technocracy, which characterizes decisions as smart and appears as value neutral, circumvents the project of moral persuasion.
    • Technocracy in practice heavily replies on incentives. Incentivzing is a shortcut to achieve the same outcome without asking people to take responsibilities.
    • The idea of "agreeing on the nonpolitical facts first then proceeds to debate opinions" simply does not work. People's perceptions are shaped by opinions. Whoever succeeds in framing the facts is already a long way in winning the argument.
  • Economic standing says nothing about one's moral standing
    • Talents are not only endowed, their subsequent market value produced are also subject to the vagaries of supply and demand (Hayek).
    • Serving market demand is simply a matter of satisfying whatever wants and desires people happen to have. The ethical significance of such satisfaction depends on the ethical significance of the wants, which are often arbitrarily produced by the workings of the economic system itself (Frank Knight).
  • Two conceptions of the common good
    • Economic conception: sum of all consumer's preferences in an economy. Individuals are first and foremost consumers. Prevailing economic policies heavily biases this view. Distributive justice.
    • Civic conception: deliberate purposes worthy of the political community and advance a just and good society. Individuals are recognized more by their role as producers. Contributive justice.