They know what you are thinking — More nightmare fuel. Not that we didn’t already know that our every move is constantly tracked, but now we see the results of that data being used: superior marketing. This is a long article but it’s worth a read. Essentially a psychometrics researcher realized that he could build scarily accurate models of behavior based on relatively small amounts of Facebook like data. A firm called Cambridge Analytica weaponized this and provides political consulting. Their two biggest clients to date: The Brexit campaign and Donald J. Trump.
The key (scary) innovation is the ability to market to behaviors rather than demographics.
Trump the moderate Matt Yglesias on a model of the president that assumes his antics are meant to distract congressional Republicans as much as they are meant to antagonize his enemies. Plausible.
Trump and big business, who’s messing with who? — A good summary of how the CEOs of several large companies are manipulating the president by giving him talking points and stroking his ego. ATT and Bayer might be good buys right now.
Andrew Sullivan on being an immigrant — I can identify with quite a bit of his sentiment, having been an immigrant in Australia and feeling much the same urge to assimilate. Enjoyable and less breathless than usual from him.
And a little Voxsplainer on NAFTA — Courtesy of Brad DeLong.
- Liberals are drunk on a political poison called intersectionality. — Pretty hard to argue here. When I hear aggrieved intersectionality arguments, I usually land in the “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” side of things. Like, yes there are structural biases against many groups, but if we descend into games of oneupmanship over who can check the most intersectional boxes all we do is splinter ourselves into tiny groups that can’t talk. Come on, The Left, devise better communication tactics.
- An academic analysis of the Alt-Right — An incredibly clear eyed examination of the actual values behind the alt-right movement as it exists under Trump and Bannon. This is the kind of article I wish we saw more of before the election, something other than name-calling (Nazi! Fascist!) and more like an attempt to understand the motivations beyond assuming that an entire hunk of the electorate is as noxious as their most noxious elements. Both sides do it but holy crap I wish that mine wouldn’t.
The alt-right rejects unregulated capitalism as its bedfellow. In previous elections, Republican candidates offered a heterogeneous mixture of libertarian and conservative ideas. The predominant element in Republican rhetoric was not conservatism but the commitment to the free market. In domestic matters, the central dichotomy was the productive market versus the wasteful welfare state, or in Cold War terms, the openness of the market versus the closed system of communism. The market, of course, is not a framework for preserving traditions; it is a force for disruption and change, benignly described as “progress.” The language of the Republicans owed more to Milton Friedman than to Edmund Burke. Economic conceptions like “supply side” and “trickle down” overshadowed references to civic virtue and generational continuity. Admittedly, on certain domestic issues, such as abortion, religious conservatism was in play. Yet, on the whole, Republican thought was capitalist at the core and conservative around the edges. It was the party of business owners and critics of the state, not the party of workers and saints. That has changed.
Sadly the article descends into old man yelling at cloud-ism by the end. That paragraph, though.
- Replication and skepticism — A good exercise in understanding when you’re trusting your gut versus paying attention to the evidence. It’s okay to distrust the current explanations of how the world works (in this case, growth mindset) but if you’re going to do that you should be aware of what you’re doing.
- Is Trump implicitely nationalizing US companies? — Obligatory Noah Smith shout out that raises important questions about the kind of informal control that Trump has over US business.
- The last time a foreign power got a US president elected — It was FDR’s reelection campaign when the Brits really needed the US’s help in WWII. And it worked.
- A mathematical model of innovation — Okay, this is fascinating. Particularly, the explanation of Polya’s Urn.
- Fuck your “side hustle” — a little Medium rant about the “sharing” economy. I roll my eyes a bit at the notion that having someone do your laundry or drive you somewhere is a symptom of arrested development. Those are luxuries, however the point that our growing upper middle class is being served by our (more rapidly) growing underclass is the key cause for concern. I just wish he would have articulated that a bit more.
- What if the US Military isn’t invincible? — because holy shit I need another thing to keep me up at night.
- Why Jeff Sessions isn’t having a hard time getting confirmed — Party sorting and polarization, basically. America hasn’t gotten more racist, it’s just that all the racists are now in the Republican party. That doesn’t mean that all Republicans are racists. (If all the six foot tall people in a room are men, it doesn’t mean that all the men in the room are six feet tall.)
- Poor neighborhoods make the best investments And it’s not just because of density. Good read about why investment in poor communities pays off so well.
- Unexpected effects of higher minimum wage turns out there are losers, even if hiring isn’t as heavily affected as economists once thought.
- The permanent income hypothesis is not really true This is a big deal. It also fulfills my quota of including at least one Noah Smith link every time I post.
All the good ones are taken Company names, that is. Though, I do think it should be noted that Yahoo! (with the bang) is not that much better than Altaba, as these things go, making this quote particularly baffling:
The name “sounded more like infantile babble than the remnants of a once-promising internet giant,” wrote Fortune’s Lucinda Shen.
We don’t get what we deserve. — Brad de Long on being a bit better about recognizing how much we benefit from society (and not vice versa). How the human animal depends on feeling a level of self-worth that comes from trading. How handouts and UBI aren’t the answer to that problem. Importantly:
- No, none of us is worth what we are paid.
- We are all living, to various extents, off of the dividends from our societal capital
- Those of us who are doing especially well are those of us who have managed to luck into situations in which we have market power–in which the resources we control are (a) scarce, (b) hard to replicate quickly, and (c) help produce things that rich people have a serious jones for right now.
- Napoleon Hill — the biggest conman you’ve never heard of — The guy who wrote Think and Grow Rich, the spiritual ancestor of the steaming heap of shit 2006 sensation The Secret. He didn’t invent magical thinking but he packaged it up in a nice bow. You can thank him for many of those horrid inspirational gifs that your aunt keeps posting to her Facebook wall.
- Russia didn’t undermine our democracy, we did. — Thanks, Obama.
- And please stop with your crazy electoral college schemes — Jonathan Chait soberly reminding everybody that subverting democratic norms because you don’t like the end result of a fair game is not the best way to ensure the health of our democracy.
Not much reading over the last couple weeks on the road. This is all I’ve got for ya:
- Bubbles are irrational — Noah Smith being awesome. Chasing irrationality seems far more plausible than everybody trying to get ahead of the greatest fool.
- A Theory of Optimal Newness — MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable). People like things that are new but not too new. Obvious and a little insight porny but still a decent article.
- Building A New Majority — Lee Drutman expertly explains how American political parties do not line up evenly on a left/right divide—there are six minor parties in our political system. Coalitions win elections. Good stuff to think about if you wanted your party to be more inclusive.
In other news, I’m HOME! Or almost. Exiled to Jersey while looking for a new apartment in the city. Woohoo! That means more updates and more rants.
Post-literacy and the oral tradition — From the article:
And here we begin to see how the age of social media resembles the pre-literate, oral world. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms are fostering an emerging linguistic economy that places a high premium on ideas that are pithy, clear, memorable and repeatable (that is to say, viral). Complicated, nuanced thoughts that require context don’t play very well on most social platforms, but a resonant hashtag can have extraordinary influence. Evan Spiegel, the chief executive officer of Snap Inc., grasped the new oral dynamics of social media when he told the Wall Street Journal: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”
- Lessons from the Spanish Civil War Nightmare fuel. Longer post on this forthcoming.
- The sad collapse of the center — Yeah, this appeals to my David Brooks hate.
Heading out on a long road trip through the southwest today. Might be posting a few link updates but will probably be pretty sporadic until I get back to New York in a couple weeks.
- Libertarian consumer protection — Why have a government agency regulate debt collection when you can hire a guy with a gun?
Republicans need to keep Trump in line — From the article:
None of this is to argue that congressional Republicans should force Trump to govern as a Democrat. Rather, it’s to say congressional Republicans should insist Trump govern as a Republican and as a conservative. Letting the Trump administration spin off into corruption, kleptocracy, and incompetence doesn’t serve the country, or the Republican Party.
- Socialize Finance? — I need to give this one another read. Compelling, but it feels loony at the same time. Just like socialism!
- Take politicians literally — Well it turns out that when politicians publish their policy plans, that’s a good indication of what they intend to do. @mattyglesias reminds us all that projecting own hopes and dreams onto a stump speech is not wise. To be 100% fair, many liberals went through this when they were shocked (just shocked!) that Obama was a centrist/pragmatist.
- Liberal economics’ “Let them eat cake” moment — Maybe don’t run roughshod over the populists, pat them on the head, and tell them that it’s okay because you know better. Ends poorly. Best line: “If you want to fight extremism, solve the problem.”
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