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What We Read Today 20 March 2016

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Topics today include:

  • Is Economics an Evolutionary Science?

  • Is Economic Theory Dead?

  • New Approaches to Economics

  • Why Have Oil Prices Tanked 3 Times in 4 Decades?

  • Pres. Obama in Cuba

  • U.S. Climate Refugees

  • Trump Blames Professional Agitators

  • Refugees Freezing in Europe

  • ISIS Responsible for Latest Bombing in Turkey

  • Syrian Opposition Losing Patience with Foot-dragging Assad

  • Putin's Gamble Has Paid Off

  • China Has Overdue Bills

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Here's Why Oil Prices Have Tanked Four Times in Three Decades (Bloomberg)   Oil may have hit its top price.  Prices are in the middle of a rally, having inched up to about $38 a barrel from a 12-year low of $27.10 in January. Analysts are warning that this recovery might sputter out once prices climb high enough to convince U.S. shale producers to increase production—about $55 a barrel.  (Econintersect:  The price might be as much as $10 less than that, or $45, if sustained for 6 months or longer.)  The problem is supply. There’s too much oil sitting around in storage. Even though crude production in the U.S. has slowed about 5.5 percent since last summer, inventories are still bloated. Getting rid of that oversupply could take a while, especially since Saudi Arabia has kept pumping and Iran is promising to increase production by 1 million barrels a day.



  • Refugees in freezing limbo on Greek-Macedonian border (Reuters)  Among a population of at least 10,000 are an estimated 4,000 children living in squalid conditions at Idomeni in Greece, where people queue for hours for a plate of food and fight over firewood to keep warm.



  • Syria's opposition grows impatient as Geneva talks show little progress (The Guardian)  The opposition negotiator says that the Assad regime refuses to engage in detailed talks as it continues to starve Syrians into submission.  The Syrian opposition will assess at the end of this week whether to continue indirect peace talks with the Syrian government.


  • Putin's Syria Gamble Has Already Paid Off (Bloomberg)  Vladimir Putin says he is withdrawing most Russian forces from Syria because his "objectives" have been achieved. How to judge that boast?  On such goals as keeping the dictator Bashar al-Assad in power, increasing Russian influence in the Middle East, restoring Moscow's seat at the table of global power, and sending a message of strength to Islamic extremists inside Russia's own borders, the jury is still out.  But it's not too early to consider Russian success on another front: showcasing military strength to potential adversaries, allies and arms buyers.


  • China Has a $590 Billion Problem With Unpaid Bills (Bloomberg)  Not since 1999 have China’s companies had so much trouble getting customers to actually pay for what they’ve bought.  It now takes about 83 days for the typical Chinese firm to collect cash for completed sales, almost twice as long as emerging-market peers. As payment delays spread from the industrial sector to technology and consumer companies, accounts receivable at the nation’s public firms have swelled by 23% over the past two years to about $590 billion.  This amount is larger then the annual economic output of Taiwan.


Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics and Business Items of Note - plus Miscellanea

  • Traditional Economics Failed. Here’s a New Blueprint. (Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer, Evonomics)  In this excellent article these very successful entrepreneurs discuss the "malleability and multidimensionality of self-interest" whereby poorly educated poor people vote for candidates representing the elite class quite contrary to economic logic.  They envision a coming shift in current perceptions of self-interest comparable to the revolution in thinking that brought the common man of the middle ages from the concept of a flat earth at the center of the universe to a more correct understanding.

We assert a simple proposition: that fundamental shifts in popular understanding of how the world works necessarily produce fundamental shifts in our conception of self-interest, which in turn necessarily produce fundamental shifts in how we think to order our societies.

  • Economic Theory Is Dead. Here’s What Will Replace It. (David Sloan Wilson)  Everyone seems to agree that the economics profession had a near death experience in 2008 and either needs to be or has been reborn in a different incarnation. The most optimistic assessments claim that a revolution is already underway based on two developments: 1) A greater emphasis on empirical research; and 2) a different conception of theory.  Wilson is Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University (State University of New York) and Arne Næss Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo.  He draws on the field of evolution in natural systems as a focus point for thinking about how economic theory and empiricism might progress.  See next article for discussion of this.

  • New paradigms in economic theory? Not so fast. (Noahpinion)  Noah Smith is a little skeptical about the propositions of Liu and Hanauer (second article above) and David Sloan Wilson (preceding article).  But he definitely sees some merit in the discussions that have been started.  With respect to using principles of evolution (Wilson) Smith says that "we don't have much evidence that inheritance of traits occurs in economies" whereas "in biological evolution , we have many clear examples of heredity".  Smith sees more promise in the proposal for economics to benefit from the Liu and Hanauer consideration of "complex adaptive systems" using  disequilibrium, nonlinear network models that replace "mechanistic" theories with "behavioral" ones.  Additonal characteristics Smith recommends from Liu and Hanauer include "replacement of forward-looking agents with adaptive agents in econ theories" and "modeling people as interdependent instead of independent".  Econintersect:  Noah Smith has written a great and very readable summary and critique of a primary heterodox thrust in economics which is being led by such people as Steve Keen, Randy Wray and others.  See also The death of theory? (Noahpinion).

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