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What We Read Today 28 August 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:

  • The Myth of Billion Dollar Drug Development

  • Did Economists Cause Growing Inequality?

  • Birdsongs and Species Evolution

  • Just 24 'Families' Produced Majority of Mathematicians

  • Corporatization of Higher Education

  • Weak Yuan Threatens Global Economy

  • Why Political Polarization Benefits Trump

  • 10 Most Expensive House Races - $78 million

  • Charles Krauthammer on the Bribery of Clinton

  • Rebuttal to Krauthammer

  • Greece is Prologue to Return of Feudalism

  • UK Pensions are at Risk Because of Brexit

  • Turmoil in Kashmir

  • Growth in India

  • Justice Postponed in Guatemala

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • A weak yuan is a bigger threat to the global economy than Brexit (MarketWatch)  China is using a weaker yuan to help prop up its faltering economy and delay a seemingly inevitable reckoning with the private and public debt its government has allowed to balloon out of control.  Because it’s being used to mask problems associated with the dangerously overleveraged Chinese economy, the steady depreciation of the yuan is a greater threat to the global economy than Brexit, argues Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors, in a Thursday note.


  • Swing states: how changes in the political landscape benefit Trump (The Guardian)  Historically, presidential candidates as unpopular as Donald Trump faced decimation in the electoral college. But thanks to the increasing polarization of both parties and voters, that has become a thing of the past.  The map of competitive states is expanding this year as Donald Trump’s poll numbers dipped to surprising lows in historically red states such as Georgia and Arizona. The last time either state voted Democratic was two decades ago.  But even as the small club of battleground states grows this year, fewer than 10 states will likely determine the outcome of this year’s race.  Relying on the same handful of states to decide the outcome of presidential elections is a fairly recent phenomenon. Just three decades ago, when politics weren’t yet so polarized, all 50 states were up for grabs, swinging between parties from one election to the next.  31 states voted differently in 1964 from how they voted in 1960, see map below.  Only 2 states (Indiana and North Carolina) voted differently in 2012 than in 2008. 

Click for all electoral maps since 1964.

  • 10 most expensive House races (The Hill)  Eight of the ten seats are currently held by Republicans.  The Republicans would have to lose 30 seats in this election for the Democrats to retake the house, a swing that many think will not happen.

  • The bribery standard (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post)  Econintersect:  When reading this we have the impression that lack of transparency is being equated to criminal activity.  Criminal activity is alleged, but none is revealed.  The author's conclusion is that no criminal activity was revealed only because it has been concealed.  We suggest that Krauthammer should be asking questions - instead he is giving answers to the questions (actually his opinions) as if they were facts on the table.  Here is an excerpt:

The central problem with Hillary Clinton’s emails was not the classified material. It wasn’t the headline-making charge by the FBI director of her extreme carelessness in handling it.

That’s a serious offense, to be sure, and could very well have been grounds for indictment. And it did damage her politically, exposing her sense of above-the-law entitlement and — in her dodges and prevarications, her parsing and evasions — demonstrating her arm’s-length relationship with the truth.

But it was always something of a sideshow. The real question wasn’t classification but: Why did she have a private server in the first place? She obviously lied about the purpose. It wasn’t convenience. It was concealment. What exactly was she hiding?

Was this merely the prudent paranoia of someone who habitually walks the line of legality? After all, if she controls the server, she controls the evidence, and can destroy it — as she did 30,000 emails — at will.

But destroy what? Remember: She set up the system before even taking office. It’s clear what she wanted to protect from scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business.

The foundation is a massive family enterprise disguised as a charity, an opaque and elaborate mechanism for sucking money from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton Inc. Its purpose is to maintain the Clintons’ lifestyle (offices, travel, accommodations, etc.), secure profitable connections, produce favorable publicity and reliably employ a vast entourage of retainers, ready to serve today and at the coming Clinton Restoration.


  • Greece Was the Prologue (Jacobin)  Austerity experiments in Greece are setting the stage for a radical restructuring of Europe by elites.  The forces at play in Europe are clearly reflected in the July 2015 referendum vote on accepting austerity in that country.  (Econintersect:  We have referred to the process underway as the reinstitution of feudalism in Europe.)  From this article:

The answer given by the Greek people was as unambiguous as the question itself — 61.5% voted against austerity. We know now, thanks to statistical analysis, that many sectors of Greek society were united in that vote: workers from the business sector, civil servants, precarious workers, the unemployed, the young, and the poor. All these social categories voted “no” by a margin of 80% to 90%.

On the other side, high-income social categories — owners of capital and wealth — overwhelmingly voted “yes.”

To put it simply, those who are benefiting from austerity policies and structural reform voted “yes” while those who suffer from these policies voted “no.” This is a clear-cut division: the week before the referendum was one of those rare historical moments when the schism between social classes becomes starkly visible, even to the naked eye.


  • Brexit 'will put 75% of workers at risk of pension shortfall'  (The Guardian)  People will have to save more for pensions to have income they were on course for before Britain voted out, say City experts.  Lower interest rates and slower growth will reduce what future pensioners will see for savings' growth. 



  • 50th day of curfew in Kashmir: 10 developments (The Times of India)  Tensions have been high in the Kashmir valley since Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 9, resulting in the implementation of a curfew imposed in Jammu and Kashmir following Wani's death. There have been regular reports of protests by civilians, and of clashes between protesters and security forces. The civilian death toll in the Valley has now risen to 69. In addition, several terrorists and security personnel have also been killed during encounters in recent weeks.  This article recounts the developments in this area since July 9.

  • GST will give boost to bilateral business ties: US to India (The Times of India)  Bullish on expanding economic ties with India, the U.S. on Sunday said bilateral trade has reached $109 billion and it will get a further boost from new reforms including the national GST, which will replace a myriad of local and state taxes throughout India.

  • Expect 8 per cent GDP growth in FY17 on back of good monsoon: Shaktikanta Das (The Economic Times)  India is expected to clock a GDP growth of nearly 8% this fiscal on the back of good monsoon rains, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das said today.   Das spoke on the sideline of a conference on 'International Arbitration in BRICS: Challenges, Opportunities and Road ahead': 

"Last year, we achieved 7.6 per cent growth on the back of failure of two monsoons. This year monsoon rains have been good  Agriculture production is expected to be much better than previous two years and definitely agriculture will contribute significantly to the GDP."

  • 8-10% growth rate must for India: Singapore deputy PM (The Times of India)  A growth rate of 8-10% was not a luxury but a necessity for India as it was engaged in a race against demographics that made creation of jobs in an inclusive framework for millions a matter of absolute urgency, Singapore deputy PM Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Friday.  India must score in fours and sixes rather than singles as even 8-10% growth for 20 years would mean a per capita GDP that was 70% of China's, Shanmugaratnam said while delivering the first annual Niti Aayog lecture on 'Transforming India.' Stating that "urgency is not natural in politics", the Singapore leader said incorporation of technology, particularly emerging frontiers of artificial intelligence, was essential to improve productivity and address big gaps in education, health and sanitation.

"India has the largest unfulfilled potential of any country I know in the world and it needs urgency to achieve that.  This potential is fully within reach. But it cannot be achieved with current day policies. It requires, as PM Narendra Modi just said, rapid transformation not gradual evolution."


  • Justice Postponed in Guatemala (Boston Review)  This article states that the world outside Guatemala was involved in the government atrocities in that country, including support of the government and its military by the U.S.  See also The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux by Noam Chomsky, which discusses in general the immoral deceits of power and intellect.   The introduction to this article:

In a conviction that initially reassured observers around the world, former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty on May 10 of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was the first head of state held to account for such atrocities in a national tribunal.

For seventeen months in 1982–3, Ríos Montt implemented a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign aimed at eradicating the country’s “internal enemy,” the armed insurgents and their perceived ideological and logistical supporters among the unarmed civilian population. The conflict, which lasted 36 years, saw 200,000 Guatemalans killed, more than 45,000 were disappeared, and approximately 1 million evicted from their homes and communities. Ríos Montt was also responsible for the deaths of 1,711 Maya Ixil, an indigenous ethnic group. Through assassination, rape, violent displacement, and starvation, Ríos Montt hoped to destroy the fabric of Ixil culture.

As she delivered the guilty verdict, Judge Jazmín Barrios ordered Guatemala’s attorney general to continue investigating the crimes for which Ríos Montt was convicted. This reckoning would mark the beginning, not the end, of the encounter with Guatemala’s horrific past. Her directive did not sit well with military and economic elites who opposed the trial and openly denied that genocide occurred. The powerful business group CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations) demanded that the verdict be overturned, and Ríos Montt’s attorney argued that the conviction would paralyze Guatemala.

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

  • Busting the billion-dollar myth: how to slash the cost of drug development (Nature)  There is an organization called Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) which has, in just over a decade, the group has earned approval for six treatments, tackling sleeping sickness, malaria, Chagas' disease and a form of leishmaniasis called kala-azar. And it has put another 26 drugs into development. It has done this with US$290 million — about one-quarter of what a typical pharmaceutical company would spend to develop just one drug. The model for its success is the product development partnership (PDP), a style of non-profit organization that became popular in the early 2000s. PDPs keep costs down through collaboration — with universities, governments and the pharmaceutical industry. And because the diseases they target typically affect the world's poorest people, and so are neglected by for-profit companies, the DNDi and groups like it face little competitive pressure. They also have lower hurdles to prove that their drugs vastly improve lives.

  • Why the Deeply Held Ideas of the Nation’s Most Elite Economists Were Direct Causes of Extreme Inequality (Evonomics)  Hat tip to Rob Carter.  This does not cover any new ground for us here at Econintersect, but this is a very well written review of what happened to economics in the second half of the 20th century.

  • Birdsong: Singing a Different Tune (Adirondack Almanack)  Jay Pitocchelli, an ornithologist at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. Pitocchelli specializes in singing behavior, specifically geographic variations in the songs of the wood warblers of North America.  Two, the mourning warbler (northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada) and the MacGillivray’s warbler (western U.S. and Canada), are believed to have diverged from a common ancestor about a million years ago.  They have very similar plumage but distinguishable birdsongs.  But in the mourning warbler population, distinct birdsong variations have been identified in the east, called "regiolects".  These have sufficient differences that, for example, Newfoundland western warblers each detect differences between their own regiolect and the other three.  But eastern and Nova Scotia warblers have much more difficulty discriminating the sounds.  The inference is that vocalization discrimination may be a significant factor in the segregation of a species on the pathway to new species (and sub-species) evolution. 

  • Majority of mathematicians hail from just 24 scientific ‘families’ (Nature)  Evolution of mathematics has been traced using unusually comprehensive genealogy database.  Most of the world’s mathematicians fall into just 24 scientific 'families', one of which dates back to the fifteenth century.

  • Credentialism and Corruption: Vile College Administrators Edition (Lambert Strether, Naked Capitalism)  LS has contributed to GEI.  The high-cost higher education received by American students is substantially provided by underpaid lackeys.  Yes, some of them are skilled teachers and do a great job, but they are not compensated for what they do.  Others are teaching to supplement income or because they can't find other work - not because they are doing a good job and 'rising to the top'.  The author mentions that his experience as an adjunct professor was compensated at the rate of $8 an hour, before taxes and expenses, with no benefits.  He points out that baristas and fast food workers are better compensated.  Noam Chominsky refers to what has happened as the corporatization of universities with "faculty increasingly hired on the Walmart model as temps".  The following graphic is from the University of California’s Pullias Center for Higher Education:

Click for larger image.

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