Archive | April, 2016

The Art of the Deal: The Narrow Virtue of Donald Trump

21 Apr
Scott Alexander has some interesting observations about Donald Trump that he makes by discussing Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal. Here’s his conclusion about what Trump does as a developer:
As best I can tell, the developer’s job is coordination. This often means blatant lies. The usual process goes like this: the bank would be happy to lend you the money as long as you have guaranteed renters. The renters would be happy to sign up as long as you show them a design. The architect would be happy to design the building as long as you tell them what the government’s allowing. The government would be happy to give you your permit as long as you have a construction company lined up. And the construction company would be happy to sign on with you as long as you have the money from the bank in your pocket. Or some kind of complicated multi-step catch-22 like that. The solution – or at least Trump’s solution – is to tell everybody that all the other players have agreed and the deal is completely done except for their signature. The trick is to lie to the right people in the right order, so that by the time somebody checks to see whether they’ve been conned, you actually do have the signatures you told them that you had. The whole thing sounds very stressful.
And now we get to Trump the politician:
Maybe I’m imagining things, but I feel like this explains a lot about his presidential campaign. People ask him something like “How would you fix Medicare?”, and he gives some vapid answer like “There are tremendous problems with Medicare, but I’m going to hire the best people. I know all of the best doctors and health care executives, and we’re going to cut some amazing deals and have the best Medicare in the world.” And yeah, he did say in his business tips that you should change the frame to avoid being negative to reporters. But this isn’t a negative or a gotcha question. At some point you’d expect Trump to do his homework and get some kind of Medicare plan or other. Instead he just goes off on the same few tangents. This thing about hiring the best people, for example, seems almost like an obsession in the book. But it works for him.
Trump simply has no interest in changing how things work; it’s not something he can think about:
These strategies have always worked for him before, and floating off into some intellectual ideal-system-design effort has never worked for him before. So when he says that he’s going to solve Medicare by hiring great managers and knowing all the right people, I don’t think this is some vapid way of avoiding the question. I think it’s the honest output of a mind that works very differently from mine. I’ve been designing ideal systems of government for the heck of it ever since I was old enough to realize what a government was. Trump is at serious risk of actually taking over a government, and such design still doesn’t appeal to him. The best he can do is say that other people are bad at governing, but he’s going to be good at governing, on account of his deal-making skill. I think he honestly believes this. It makes perfect sense in real estate, where some people are good businesspeople, others are bad businesspeople, and the goal is to game the system rather than change it. But in politics, it’s easy to interpret as authoritarianism – “Forget about policy issues, I’m just going to steamroll through this whole thing by being personally strong and talented.”
And so:
The world is taken as a given. It contains deals. Some people make the deals well, and they are winners. Other people make the deals poorly, and they are losers. Trump does not need more than this.

Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired – The New York Times

9 Apr

HubSpot was founded in 2006 in Cambridge, Mass., and went public in 2014. It’s one of those slick, fast-growing start-ups that are so much in the news these days, with the beanbag chairs and unlimited vacation — a corporate utopia where there is no need for work-life balance because work is life and life is work. Imagine a frat house mixed with a kindergarten mixed with Scientology, and you have an idea of what it’s like.

I joined the company in 2013 after spending 25 years in journalism and getting laid off from a top position at Newsweek. I thought working at a start-up would be great. The perks! The cool offices!

It turned out I’d joined a digital sweatshop, where people were packed into huge rooms, side by side, at long tables. Instead of hunching over sewing machines, they stared into laptops or barked into headsets, selling software.

Tech workers have no job security. You’re serving a “tour of duty” that might last a year or two, according to the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, who is the co-author of a book espousing his ideas, “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.” Companies burn you out and churn you out when someone better, or cheaper, becomes available. “Your company is not your family,” is another line from Mr. Hoffman’s book.

Source: Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired – The New York Times

The Panama Papers Could Lead to Capitalism’s Great Crisis | TIME

9 Apr

To me, this is one of the key issues at work in the U.S. presidential election. Voters know at a gut level that our system of global capitalism is working mainly for the 1 %, not the 99 %. That’s a large part of why both Sanders and Trump have done well, because they tap into that truth, albeit in different ways. The Panama Papers illuminate a key aspect of why the system isn’t working–because globalization has allowed the capital and assets of the 1 % (be they individuals or corporations) to travel freely, while those of the 99 % cannot. Globalization is supposed to be about the free movement of people, goods, and capital. But in fact, the system is set up to enable that mobility mainly for the rich (or for large corporations). The result is global tax evasion, the offshoring of labor, and an elite that flies 35,000 feet over the problems of nation states and the tax payers within them.

Where do we go from here? I think we’re heading towards a root to branch re-evaluation of how our market system works–and doesn’t work. The debate over free trade is part of that re-evaluation. The calls for a global campaign against tax evasion are, too. I think there will also be intense scrutiny about the ease with which financial capital can move around the world – we’ve already seen that with the hoopla over tax inversions, but we’ll see a lot more backlash, in new areas.

Source: The Panama Papers Could Lead to Capitalism’s Great Crisis | TIME

Keeping sea lanes open: a benefit cost analysis — Crooked Timber

8 Apr

Would a crisis in the South China Sea, presumably caused by a Chinese attempt to claim control, have such a huge adverse effect? It is routinely pointed out that the volume of trade passing through the South China Sea ($5.3 trillion on this estimate ) is very large. But the great majority of this trade (around $4 trillion) is going to or from China.[^1] Obviously, the Chinese government can control this trade in any way it chooses through domestic policies and has no interest in blocking it. The remaining $1 trillion or so of trade (about 1.5 per cent of global GDP) might, in the event of a crisis, be forced to take more circuitous routes, as happened when the Suez canal was blocked. But using the same method as was applied to Suez, it’s easy to see that the total impact would be modest.

On past experience, it seems highly unlikely that an economic analysis of this kind will have any effect on military policy discussions. Vague claims about economic interests loom large in such discussions, and attempts to pin them down to concrete realities are routinely evaded. The century beginning with World War I, and running through to the trillion-dollar quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen countless demonstrations that, under modern conditions, war is almost invariably an economic disaster for all concerned. That hasn’t stopped war, and preparation for war, being considered as an essential part of a national economic strategy, and it seems unlikely to do so.

Source: Keeping sea lanes open: a benefit cost analysis — Crooked Timber

End of the End of History, Redux | n+1 | aka the Bernie Sanders Moment|

5 Apr

There the similarities end. While Bill Bradley dropped out of the primary race in 2000 after losing the first twenty primaries to Al Gore, Bernie Sanders, so far, has won eleven out of twenty-nine states over Hillary Clinton in 2016. No intra-party realignment has taken place since 2000. Sanders’s core constituencies are identical to Bradley’s: the working class, upper-middle-class mugwumps, and youth. But the disasters of the Bush administration and the inadequacies of Obama’s efforts at reform and recovery have hardened the resolve of these constituencies politically and the fragility of the economy, coupled with the persistence of income inequality, has increased their demographic weight.

Sanders’ rhetoric of “political revolution” signals to them that he is a candidate who clearly understands that democracy conducted along neoliberal lines was fatally injured in the 2008 crash. Talk of socialism is no longer taboo; systemic change, in one form or another, is imminent. The Vermont senator is reactivating sectors of the Democratic base captivated by Obama’s campaign only to be demobilized and disappointed by Obama’s record in office: within and without the party, Sanders can win over voters that Clinton, with her irrevocably tainted record of collusion with corporate interests and support from neoliberal intellectuals, never could. The narrative being presented, all but unanimously, by the professional political press is exactly wrong. It is Sanders, not Clinton, who has a higher electoral ceiling. Even if one sets the Sanders-dominated youth vote aside, the older left-tending working-class voters depressed by NAFTA and subsequent Clinton-backed trade agreements—all of which Sanders vehemently opposed—significantly outnumber the only Democratic bloc bitterly opposed to a Sanders nomination: the contented upper-middle class of which the professional political press is part, and whose interests it amplifies, albeit with diminishing effect. The assertion from the commentariat that Sanders is unviable in the general election can be reduced to the proposition that said commentariat, and the ever-shrinking proportion of voters who take its word as authoritative, would hate to vote for him—no less, but also no more.

Like Perot, who he resembles temperamentally, Sanders is wagering that he can win a rigged game; unlike the Texan businessman, however, the Senator has some experience in the matter of winning elections. His relative restraint with regards to his primary opponent should not necessarily be taken as a sign of weakness or naivete, nor should it be taken as a permanent fact: if he continues to perform above expectations, the condescension aimed at him from above will reach such a pitch as to justify counter-attacking, and he will need fresh charges to level then.

Source: End of the End of History, Redux | Online Only | n+1

Children Now Spend Less Time Outside than the Average Prisoner

1 Apr

A global survey conducted on children’s time outdoors quickly became an ongoing campaign called “Dirt is Good” after the findings showed a concerning lack of outdoor playtime among children aged five to twelve. The results of the survey, commissioned by British laundry company Persil and conducted by an independent market research firm, revealed ⅓ of British children spend 30 minutes or less outside every day — and that one in five does not play outside at all on an average day. The researchers surveyed 12,000 parents spanning 10 countries: the United States, Brazil, U.K., Turkey, Portugal, South Africa, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and India.

The Dirt is Good initiative was founded based on the survey, and the short film of the same name, which features interviews with inmates, reports that “on average, children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate.” According to Dirt is Good, inmates receive at least two hours of time outside every day while most children enjoy an hour or less.

The inmates interviewed in the short film expressed the importance of their outdoor time.

“I think it’s probably the most important part of my day,” one inmate says. It “keeps my mind right, keeps my body strong,” another explains. Yet another calls his time outside “pretty much the highlight of my day.”

Source: Children Now Spend Less Time Outside than the Average Prisoner