Four articles about the creation of Germany, and one about its reunification

I had the pleasure of being in Germany for about a week in January, and it is a country that I would love to visit again. For a variety of reasons, it must be said, not the least of which is that Germany’s reputation when it comes to beer is entirely deserved. What’s more, every single German I met told me that January was probably the worst time of the year to visit if beer was the main thing on the agenda, which only makes my argument stronger.

As a side note: every single German with him I spoke about beer also said that Oktoberfest is by now vastly overrated. I would have expected that in any case, but it was a useful reaffirmation.

In February, we will learn more about Germany, but I plan to not write about the two world wars at all. Not, of course, because they are not worth writing about, but because I would expect most people reading this to know about them in any case.

Instead, I propose to link to articles about the following topics: the founding of Germany, the reconstruction of Germany after the end of the IInd World War, Germany’s (almost horrified) fascination with inflation today, and conclude with a rather longish article about my impressions of Germany from my visit there, and what I hope to learn more about as a consequence. If you feel very strongly about any topic that should be included in addition to these, please let me know!

Germany, as perhaps most of you reading this already know, became Germany the nation – in the sense that we understand it today – only in 1871. Whether this was in response to rising feelings of nationalism in other parts of Europe, or because of Otto Van Bismarck, or a combination of the two will forever be  a matter of surmise.

In the Gründerzeit period following the unification of Germany, Bismarck’s foreign policy as Chancellor of Germany under Emperor William I secured Germany’s position as a great nation by forging alliances, isolating France by diplomatic means, and avoiding war. Under Wilhelm II, Germany, like other European powers, took an imperialistic course, leading to friction with neighbouring countries. Most alliances in which Germany had previously been involved were not renewed. This resulted in the creation of a dual alliance with the multinational realm of Austria-Hungary, promoting at least benevolent neutrality if not outright military support. Subsequently, the Triple Alliance of 1882 included Italy, completing a Central European geographic alliance that illustrated German, Austrian and Italian fears of incursions against them by France and/or Russia. Similarly, Britain, France and Russia also concluded alliances that would protect them against Habsburg interference with Russian interests in the Balkans or German interference against France.

This is what Germany looked like at the outset:

At its birth Germany occupied an area of 208,825 square miles (540,854 square km) and had a population of more than 41 million, which was to grow to 67 million by 1914. The religious makeup was 63 percent Protestant, 36 percent Roman Catholic, and 1 percent Jewish. The nation was ethnically homogeneous apart from a modest-sized Polish minority and smaller Danish, French, and Sorbian populations. Approximately 67 percent lived in villages and the remainder in towns and cities. Literacy was close to universal because of compulsory education laws dating to the 1820s and ’30s.

And there was a reason this mattered. Germany was about to change in a whole different variety of ways.

The person most responsible for this was, of course, Otto Van Bismarck. The entire Wikipedia article makes for fascinating reading, not just the excerpt below.

Imperial and provincial government bureaucracies attempted to Germanise the state’s national minorities situated near the borders of the empire: the Danes in the North, the Francophones in the West and Poles in the East. As minister president of Prussia and as imperial chancellor, Bismarck “sorted people into their linguistic [and religious] ‘tribes'”; he pursued a policy of hostility in particular toward the Poles, which was an expedient rooted in Prussian history. “He never had a Pole among his peasants” working the Bismarckian estates; it was the educated Polish bourgeoisie and revolutionaries he denounced from personal experience, and “because of them he disliked intellectuals in politics.”Bismarck’s antagonism is revealed in a private letter to his sister in 1861: “Hammer the Poles until they despair of living […] I have all the sympathy in the world for their situation, but if we want to exist we have no choice but to wipe them out: wolves are only what God made them, but we shoot them all the same when we can get at them.” Later that year, the public Bismarck modified his belligerence and wrote to Prussia’s foreign minister: “Every success of the Polish national movement is a defeat for Prussia, we cannot carry on the fight against this element according to the rules of civil justice, but only in accordance with the rules of war.”With Polish nationalism the ever-present menace, Bismarck preferred expulsion rather than Germanisation

One of the best books that I read about the history of Europe in this period is a book called The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret Macmillan. Read the book, but begin with this review:

After Hitler’s war, though, English-speaking historians were more likely to see a pattern of German aggression stretching back before 1914, and in 1961 the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer made the controversial case (bitterly opposed by most German historians) that Germany had mounted a pre-emptive strike. The “Fischer thesis” became the orthodoxy for a while, but has been plausibly challenged in recent years by historians who have pointed the finger almost everywhere except at Berlin. The current consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. There is, finally, the question of the decisions made by a score or so of men (and they were all men) in half a dozen capitals.

As noted above, we now fast forward to the year 1990 (or thereabouts). There is much more to German reunification than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The East German government started to falter in May 1989, when the removal of Hungary’s border fence with Austria opened a hole in the Iron Curtain. It caused an exodus of thousands of East Germans fleeing to West Germany and Austria via Hungary. The Peaceful Revolution, a series of protests by East Germans, led to the GDR’s first free elections on 18 March 1990, and to the negotiations between the GDR and FRG that culminated in a Unification Treaty.[1] Other negotiations between the GDR and FRG and the four occupying powers produced the so-called “Two Plus Four Treaty” (Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany) granting full sovereignty to a unified German state, whose two parts were previously bound by a number of limitations stemming from their post-World War II status as occupied regions.

Next Wednesday, I’ll link to five articles about the reconstruction of post-war Germany and associated topics.

Understanding Horizons, Understanding Time

The more I think about time, the more confused I get. The more I read about time, the more I cannot help but think about time.

In today’s post, I hope to be able to inspire you to get as confused about time as I am.

Before we get to the five links, here are some questions for you.

Should I have a gulab jamun after lunch today? If you are anything at all like me, your answer is likely to be a resounding “aye!”

Do you know who might want to say no? 70 year old Ashish (assuming I live to be that age) might not be such a big fan of I having that gulab jamun today.

Should 38 year old Ashish (for that is how old I am right now) listen to the entreaties of a 70 year old Ashish who doesn’t exist?

Well, if 38 year old Ashish wants 70 year old Ashish to have a chance of existing, I think it makes sense to ditch that damn dessert.

But, uh, good luck trying to convince 38 year old Ashish at 1.45 pm of the importance of thinking about the hypothetical existence of 70 year old Ashish.

That’s the problem of time discounting.

How important is the future, compared to the present?

Think of it in terms of gulab jamuns or interest rates offered to you by the bank, it’s the same thing. A weeekend trip to Goa (38 year old Ashish says yes!), or a fixed deposit in the bank (70 year old Ashish says yes!)?

Now: that was the easy bit. Let’s amp things up a little.

Do you wish your parents had saved a little bit more when they were younger? Hell, imagine if your grandparents hadn’t had that gulab jamun when they were young, and put the money in a fixed deposit instead. Go as far back in time as you wish, and imagine how important a rupee saved a couple of centuries ago would have been today – for you.

But, um, by that measure, shouldn’t you be saving every single rupee you can today for your child’s tomorrow? The argument holds whether you have children or not, by the way. If you wish your great-great-great-grandfather had been more financially responsible at age 27, when he was unmarried and without kids, then that goes for you today as well!

And all that being said, let’s get cracking with today’s set of links!

  1. “Time discounting research investigates differences in the relative valuation placed on rewards (usually money or goods) at different points in time by comparing its valuation at an earlier date with one for a later date”…
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    says the very simple introduction to time (temporal) discounting on behavioraleconomics.com. While you’re on that page, also look up hyperbolic discounting.
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  2. “Someone with a high time preference is focused substantially on their well-being in the present and the immediate future relative to the average person, while someone with low time preference places more emphasis than average on their well-being in the further future.Time preferences are captured mathematically in the discount function. The higher the time preference, the higher the discount placed on returns receivable or costs payable in the future.”
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    That is from Wikipedia, and as homework, ask yourself if you should live life with a zero discount rate attached to most things.*
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  3. “What has become known as the “Ramsey formula” says that the rate at which one should discount an increase in consumption that occurs in the future depends on three key factors, elaborated upon below: our pure rate of time preference, our expectations about future growth rates, and our judgment about whether and how fast the marginal utility of consumption declines as we grow wealthier”
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    So here’s a way to understand the point above: I was in Europe on work recently. Should I have splurged on a three star Michelin meal in Paris? Or banked the money I might have spent over there and gone for three such meals when I was 70 instead? Will such a meal at age 70 hold the same importance for me as it does now?**
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  4. “When brain science was young, it was thought that the frontal lobe had no particular function. There were famous cases such as that of Phineas Gage, a railway worker who, in an explosion, had a long iron rod driven through the front of his brain. The rod was removed and Gage, miraculously, survived, seemingly with his intelligence, language and memory intact. Before long he was back at work.However, observation of others with frontal lobe damage soon revealed the cost – problems with planning, and also, strangely, a reduction in feelings of anxiety. What was the link between the two? Both planning and anxiety are related to thinking about the future. Frontal lobe damage leaves people living in a permanent present, and as a result they will not be bothering to make plans, so can’t be anxious about them.”
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    That is from a review of one of the finest books I have read, Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. Read the book, please. I promise you that it is worth your (excuse the pun) time.
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  5. “But there’s an alternative path. Generations overlap, and so by doing more to empower younger people today, we give somewhat more weight to the interests of future people compared to the interests of present people. This could be significant. Currently, the median voter is 47.5 years old in the USA; the average age of senators in the USA is 61.8 years. With an aging population, these numbers are very likely to get higher over time: in developed countries, the median age is project to increase by 3 to 7 years by 2050 (and by as much as 15 years in South Korea). We live in something close to a gerontocracy, and if voters and politicians are acting in their self-interest, we should expect that politics as a whole has a shorter time horizon than if younger people were more empowered.”
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    Via Marginal Revolution, this lovely, thought-provoking essay by William Macaskill. As both the MR blog post and Macaskill are careful to point out, this necessarily implies that younger people should be more informed, for such a system to have even a shot at succeeding.

 

But hey, that’s as good an argument as any for the existence of this blog!

 

*Yes, you should, far as I can tell. But god, it’s hard!

**If you were wondering, the answer is no. I didn’t go for that meal. I wish I had though!

 

 

Tech: Understanding Mainframes Better

My daughter, all of six years old, doesn’t really know what a computer is.

Here’s what I mean by that: a friend of hers has a desktop in her bedroom, and to my daughter, that is a computer. My laptop is, well, a laptop – to her, not a computer. And she honestly thinks that the little black disk that sits on a coffee table in our living room is a person/thing called Alexa.

How to reconcile – both for her and for ourselves – the idea of what a computer is? The etymology of the word is very interesting – it actually referred to a person! While it is tempting to write a short essay on how Alexa has made it possible to complete the loop in this case, today’s links are actually about understanding mainframes better.

Over the next four or five weeks, we’ll trace out the evolution of computers from mainframes down to, well, Alexa!

  1. “Several manufacturers and their successors produced mainframe computers from the late 1950s until the early 21st Century, with gradually decreasing numbers and a gradual transition to simulation on Intel chips rather than proprietary hardware. The US group of manufacturers was first known as “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs”: usually Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, General Electric and RCA, although some lists varied. Later, with the departure of General Electric and RCA, it was referred to as IBM and the BUNCH. IBM’s dominance grew out of their 700/7000 series and, later, the development of the 360 series mainframes.”
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    Wikipedia’s article on mainframes contains a short history of the machines.
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  2. “Mainframe is an industry term for a large computer. The name comes from the way the machine is build up: all units (processing, communication etc.) were hung into a frame. Thus the maincomputer is build into a frame, therefore: MainframeAnd because of the sheer development costs, mainframes are typically manufactured by large companies such as IBM, Amdahl, Hitachi.”
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    This article was written a very long time ago, but is worth looking at for a simple explanation of what mainframes are. Their chronology is also well laid out  – and the photographs alone are worth it!
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  3. “Although only recognized as such many years later, the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) was really the first electronic computer. You might think “electronic computer” is redundant, but as we just saw with the Harvard Mark I, there really were computers that had no electronic components, and instead used mechanical switches, variable toothed gears, relays, and hand cranks. The ABC, by contrast, did all of its computing using electronics, and thus represents a very important milestone for computing.”
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    This is your periodic reminder to please read Cixin Liu. But also, this article goes more into the details of what mainframe computers were than the preceding one. Please be sure to read through all three pages – and again, the photographs alone are worth the price of admission.
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  4. A short, Philadelphia focussed article that is only somewhat related to mainframes, but still – in my opinion – worth reading, because it gives you a what-if idea of the evolution of the business. Is that really how the name came about?! (see the quote about bugs below)
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    “So Philly should really be known as “Vacuum Tube Valley,” Scherrer adds: “We want to trademark that.” He acknowledged the tubes were prone to moths — “the original computer bugs.”
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  5. I’m a sucker for pictures of old technology (see especially the “Death to the Mainframe” picture)

India: Understanding our Constitution a little bit better

In less than a week, we celebrate our Republic Day.

But what exactly is a republic? How is it different from a democracy – which begs the question, what is a democracy?

One of the definitions of democracy, given by Google, is this: “control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.”.

Or, as children in India have been saying for years at around 5.30 in the evening, “majority wins” (Extra points for reading this in that wonderfully evocative sing-song cadence.) But hey, there’s so much more to it than that!

So what is a republic? Once again, Google to the rescue: “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.”

So when we celebrate Republic Day, we’re really celebrating the fact that we’re not ruled by a monarch anymore, but rather by ourselves. Except that we elect some people to do the job for us.

So when we appoint somebody, what powers do we give them? What powers do we not give them? Do we give them the power to change the powers that we give them – if you see what I mean?

That is where the constitution comes in. Again, our old pal Google: “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.”

The Constitution, sets the maryadas of the government in power. This you can and should do, this, uh, not so much. That, not at all. The Constitution does so much more than that, but that is certainly one of its main purposes.

Which begs the question: who came up with the idea of constitutions? Who, in India’s specific case, was appointed to write India’s Constitution? On what basis? What were their ideas and motivating principles? And that is the direction in which today’s post will go.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be anywhere near an expert on this topic. This is on the basis of stuff I have been reading in order to teach myself. If you have links to share that will broaden my understanding of this topic, please do share.

Many thanks to Murali Neelakantan for providing a ton of helpful suggestions!

  1. “To understand the first conceptualisation, that of constitution-as-function, we should clarify what scholars view to be the traditional purposes of constitutions. A central idea here is the limitation of government power. Constitutions generate a set of inviolable principles and more specific provisions to which future law and government activity more generally must conform. This function, commonly termed constitutionalism, is vital to the functioning of democracy. Without a commitment to higher law, the state can operate for the short-term benefit of those in power or the current majority. Those who find themselves out of power may find that they are virtually unprotected, which in turn may make them more likely to resort to extra-constitutional means of securing power. By limiting the scope of government and precommitting politicians to respect certain limits, constitutions make government possible.”
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    That’s the whole maryada angle we were talking about earlier. That is from the UCL website, and the website is worth a detailed look.
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  2. So if the idea of the Constitution is to, in this case, set up the framework for the operation of the government, that makes it pretty darn important. Who did we give the job to, and how?
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    “”India was still under British rule when the Constituent Assembly was established following negotiations between Indian leaders and members of the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India from the United Kingdom. Provincial assembly elections were held in mid 1946. Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by members of the newly elected provincial assemblies, and initially included representatives for those provinces that formed part of Pakistan (some of which are now in Bangladesh). The Constituent Assembly had 299 representatives, including fifteen women.”
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    Note that we didn’t really give the job to anybody. There were provincial assembly elections, and the Constituent Assembly members were elected indirectly by members of these provincial assemblies. But that may be a good thing! As Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah note in their recent book, In The Service Of The Republic: “The Constitution of India my not have won a referendum either in 1950 or today.” (Emphasis added).
    I really wish we had the time to explore this question in more detail: who frames the rules by which we agree to live as a country, and on what basis. But I promise to get to it in later posts. For the moment, we move on.
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  3. “(1) This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution;(2) WHEREIN the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside British India and the States as well as such other territories as are willing to be constituted into the Independent Sovereign India, shall be a Union of them all; and

    (3) WHEREIN the said territories, whether with their present boundaries or with such others as may be determined by the Constituent Assembly and thereafter according to the Law of the Constitution, shall possess and retain the status of autonomous Units, together with residuary powers, and exercise all powers and functions of government and administration, save and except such powers and functions as are vested in or assigned to the Union, or as are inherent or implied in the Union or resulting therefrom; and

    (4) WHEREIN all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people; and

    (5) WHEREIN shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality; and

    (6) WHEREIN adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes; and

    (7) WHEREBY shall be maintained the integrity of the territory of the Republic and its sovereign rights on land, sea, and air according to Justice and the law of civilised nations, and

    (8) this ancient land attains its rightful and honoured place in the world and make its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.”
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    This is the famous Objectives Resolution, put forth by Jawaharlal Nehru on the 13th of December, 1946, in one of the first few (the very first?) meetings of the Constituent Assembly. (5) and (6), to me, are the most crucial parts of the resolution. If the question is, what were the aims and aspirations of the members of the Constituent Assembly in terms of what they hoped the Constitution would achieve, this is the best answer I could find.
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  4. “It was here that the enduring distinction between “justiciable” and “non-justiciable” rights (Directive Principles) was first mooted, much to the consternation of K.T. Shah. It was in the Sub-Committee that Minoo Masani, Hansa Mehta and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur argued strongly for a right to inter-religious marriages and to a uniform civil code (with Ambedkar’s support), but were voted down. It was in the Advisory Committee that the right to privacy (secrecy of correspondence and prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures) was dropped from the draft bill of rights, as was the right to vote. Here you find Ambedkar’s eloquent arguments for the link between constitutional rights and the economic structure, and K.T. Shah’s radical proposals to make remuneration for housework a fundamental right. In short, endlessly fascinating stuff.”
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    All of that comes from Gautam Bhatia’s blog, written in collaboration with Vasudev Devadasan. The blog is worth subscribing to, and reading this post (part 1 of 3, no less) makes me want to burrow into this topic for a long time to come. Alas, accursed economics!
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  5. And finally, from a column written in 2018 by Gautam Bhatia, this excerpt – but do read the whole thing!
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    “In hearing and deciding these cases, the court has an opportunity to affirm the words of one of its greatest civil rights judges, Justice Vivian Bose, who recognised the deeply transformative character of the Constitution when he said: “Is not the sanctity of the individual recognised and emphasised again and again? Is not our Constitution in violent contrast to those of states where the state is everything and the individual but a slave or a serf to serve the will of those who for the time being wield almost absolute power?” How India Became Democratic helps us to understand that the answer to both those questions is an unambiguous “yes.””

 

It shames me to realize how little I know about India’s constitution, and the history of that constitution. We live by a set of rules whose origins, aims and framers are largely unknown to most of us. This post was my attempt to begin to change my own status quo, and I hope to dedicate at least one Monday a month to writing a post that helps me learn more about the Indian Constitution.

And on that aspirational note, a very happy Republic Day to you all!

RoW: The movement of people into and out of Poland

One target for this year, 2020, is to write about one country a month. As this Wednesday article makes clear, this month’s country is Poland. Given its history and its current politics, I was curious about immigration and Poland – as the title of this post suggests, the movement of people into and out of Poland.

This is a topic that is of interest to me for a variety of reasons. I got the chance to teach a course on migration and its impact on development some years ago, and reading up for that course was quite instructive. Specifically, I got to know the works of Douglas Massey, and also chanced upon this lovely paper – lovely to me, that is – by Bryan Caplan. I also want to read this book, written by him.

Our government’s approach to migration – completely wrongheaded, in my view – is of course another reason to want to read about experiences in other parts of the world.

Onwards, then: five articles about Poland and its approach to immigration.

  1. “A draft of the interior ministry’s new migration policy, leaked to Polish media last month, revealed the government’s priority is to lure Poles back from western Europe, and to attract people from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, who can prove they have Polish origins.The document said Poland’s safety was guaranteed by its cultural, national and religious homogeneity, and said the new policy would focus on selecting immigrants who would follow Poland’s law and customs, as well as “values emerging from . . . Poland’s dominating religion”.

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    An article form the FT, miraculously ungated, about the issue.
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  2. “Poland’s massive migration numbers, and the warm welcome Ukrainians have received, stands in marked opposition to the anti-migrant electoral campaign that helped bring PiS to power four years ago. The party crushed a coalition of opposition parties with 46 percent of the vote in last month’s European Parliament election, its strongest ever result. Stumping in 2015, PiS head and Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that “refugees” would “bring in all kinds of parasites, which are not dangerous in their own countries, but which could prove dangerous for the local populations.”
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    The title of the article says it all, really.
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  3. “So it may come as a surprise that the Polish government has, very quietly, presided over the largest influx of migrant workers in the country’s modern history — though they are mostly Christians from neighboring Ukraine.Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has not been shy about promoting the government’s agenda. “We want to reshape Europe and re-Christianize it,” he said in 2017 in an interview with a Catholic television station. The government recently ordered all new passports include the phrase, “God, Honor, Motherland.”

    But immigration is Poland’s paradox. It has benefited greatly from the European Union’s open borders, earning billions of dollars in remittances from the hundreds of thousands of Polish workers who have migrated to other countries in the bloc, especially to Britain. Yet with Poland now facing labor shortages, the government is failing to lure back the diaspora — and is restricted by its political stance against migrants.”
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    The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
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  4. “Since the opening of the labour market following Poland joining the European Union in 2004, Poland experienced a mass migration of over 2 million abroad. As of 2011, 52 out of 1,000 Polish citizens have lived outside the country;[10] estimated at 2.2 million by the Polish Central Statistics Office (GUS), and 2.6–2.7 million by the journalists. GUS statistics estimate that the number of long term Polish immigrants abroad have risen from 0.7 million in 2002 to a peak number of almost 2.3 million in 2007, and has since declined to 2 million by 2010–11.It has remained relatively stable at that level for a short period, following the uncertainty of Global Recession of 2007–08, By December 2015, 12% of Polish labor population left for UK to work there.According to a 2013 survey, approximately 14% percent of adult Poles have worked abroad since 2004 (approximately a quarter for over a year); 69% have a family member of a close friend who lives abroad, and approximately 24% are open to immigration. Majority of Polish migrants or those considering leaving are young; according to a 2014 survey approximately 90% of Poles under 34 have considered some form of migration. ”
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    That is from a Wikipedia article about the topic.
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  5. “BELGIANS must believe Siemiatycze is the capital of Poland, residents of this eastern Polish town like to quip. Those that are left, that is. Since before the fall of Communism Brussels has been the destination of choice for thousands of Siemiatyczans who seek work abroad. Accurate figures as to just how many have left are hard to come by, as people often retain Siematycze as their official place of residence. But it is clear that the real population of the town, at any given moment, is considerably less than the official figure of 15,000.”
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    From within that Wikipedia article, an article from the Economist about the number of people who have left Poland over the years.

 

Tech: What, exactly, is CES?

Five links to help us understand CES better, along with some information about why reading about it matters in the first place.

  1. CES (formerly an acronym for Consumer Electronics Show[1]) is an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). Held in January at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las VegasNevada, United States, the event typically hosts presentations of new products and technologies in the consumer electronics industry.
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    The first CES was held in June 1967 in New York City. It was a spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, which, until then, had served as the main event for exhibiting consumer electronics. The event had 17,500 attenders and over 100 exhibitors; the kickoff speaker was Motorola chairman Bob Galvin.[2] From 1978 to 1994, CES was held twice each year: once in January in Las Vegas known for Winter Consumer Electronics Show (WCES) and once in June in Chicago, known as Summer Consumer Electronics Show (SCES).”
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    As always, let’s begin with Wikipedia.
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  2. No excerpt, but here’s the official website. Have fun clicking through the topics. Think of CES as the harbinger of what is going to come up in tech this year or in the near future.
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  3. A photo essay showing you what earlier CES’s looked like.
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  4. Steven Sinofsky, who is absolutely worth following if you are interested in technology, on his impressions of CES from the previous year. Also contains a very cool idea for doing away with editors!
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    “Some years CES feels like a deep technology show with everyone talking about something that requires hardware, new software, and a lot of work to even do something (3D TV, WiFi, home disk storage)Some years CES feels like attendees are overwhelmed with one specific technology no matter which way we look (HD, 4K, internet). Over the past couple of years we have seen a lot of ingredients working to come together as products — virtual assistants, home automation, sensors to name a few. CES 2019 is a kind of year that sort of screams “we’re ready for the products that really work.” In that spirit, CES 2019 is a year where products are close, but seem a product manager iteration away from being a product that can reach a tipping point of customer satisfaction and utility. Products work in a “thread the needle” sort of way, but a lot of details and real life quickly cause things to become frustrating.”
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  5. I am scheduling this post on the 9th of January, and Dieter Bohn (another person you absolutely should follow if you are interested in technology) hasn’t as of yet written a post summarizing CES 2020. But he did write an excellent piece on how one should think about CES – this year, and perhaps in general.
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    “Every year, like clockwork, as tech journalists head to Las Vegas, some portion of them and some other portion staying at home will talk about how CES doesn’t matter anymore, how it’s awful, and how little that gets announced here actually gets released.

    These complaints always frustrate me because registering a disagreement with them ends up sounding like you believe the exact opposite: that CES is very great and what happens here is very consequential.
    For me, the opposite of “CES is bad” isn’t “CES is good” but rather “CES is not what you wish it was.””

Ec101: Links for 2nd January, 2020

Five links to help us better understand incentives

  1. Wikipedia gives us the inside dope on economic incentives.
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  2. Quora remains a reasonably good place to get answers…
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  3. The Econlib page on incentives is full of interesting snippets…
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  4. But beware! Incentives aren’t easy to design!
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    “Studies show that offering incentives for losing weight, quitting smoking, using seat belts, or (in the case of children) acting generously is not only less effective than other strategies but often proves worse than doing nothing at all. Incentives, a version of what psychologists call extrinsic motivators, do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviors. They do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. Rather, incentives merely—and temporarily—change what we do.”
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  5. A Forbes article that tells you how might mitigate some of the problems with incentive design.

RoW: Links for 13th December, 2019

  1. “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas”
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    Five articles about the Belt and Road Initiative, earlier known as the One Belt One Road Initiative. We begin with the Wikipedia article.
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  2. “The Belt and Road Initiative includes includes 1/3 of world trade and GDP and over 60% of the world’s population.”
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    That excerpt is just the caption to the first chart in this write-up from the WB, but it is the one that really opens ones eyes to how large the BRI is.
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  3. ““There are some extreme cases where China lends into very high risk environments, and it would seem that the motivation is something different. In these situations the leverage China has as lender is used for purposes unrelated to the original loan,” said Scott Morris, one of the authors of the Washington Centre for Global Development report.”
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    The Guardian in a write-up about the same topic.
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  4. “But the Crusades, as well as advances by the Mongols in Central Asia, dampened trade, and today Central Asian countries are economically isolated from each other, with intra-regional trade making up just 6.2 percent of all cross-border commerce. They are also heavily dependent on Russia, particularly for remittances—they make up one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. By 2018, remittances had dipped from their 2013 highs due to Russia’s economic woes.”
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    The Council of Foreign Relations with their take.
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  5. “Throughout the text, Maçães prefers to use the term ‘Belt and Road’ over the more succinct — and increasingly popular — ‘BRI’. This has the effect of giving credibility to the author’s speculation that eventually, Belt and Road terminology will be used much like ‘the West’ is to refer to the contemporary order. This musing reveals Maçães’s central argument: that the Belt and Road has the capacity to blaze a path to an alternative world order that reflects new universal values. At some points in the text, this comes across as a utopian promise; at other points, an improbable claim. These perspectives are compared and contrasted over the course of five chapters.”
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    Read this review, but more importantly, read the book! A review of the book that Bruno Macaes has written on BRI.

Etc: Links for 6th December, 2019

Five articles about my favorite sportsperson

 

  1. “Dear Maya, It’s June 25, 2032 and it’s your 18th birthday. I don’t have anything profound to give you except for this thumb drive about an unusual man. Roger Federer didn’t fight for peace or solve world hunger, but he did what most could not. In an era of athletic conceit and inflated skill, he lived for roughly 20 years at the unique intersection of art, accomplishment and decency.”
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    Rohit Brijnath.
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  2. “Four years ago, trying to comprehend the phenomenon of Federer’s late career, which even then seemed like it had lasted an astonishingly long time, I wrote that the best athletes usually have a “still” phase. First they’re fast. Then they’re slow. In between, there’s a moment when they’re “still” fast — when you can see the end coming but can’t deny that, for now, they remain close to their best. Federer, I wrote, had spent longer in that “still” phase than any great tennis player I could think of.”
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    Brian Philips, amazed at how long Federer has been awesome… written in 2015.
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  3. A Wikipedia article about the greatest rivalry in sport.
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  4. “I was broken after the final at Wimbledon then. I was equally gutted after the final today. There’s a difference in outlook though. Back then, I hated the opponent with every small bit of childish rebellion could gather. Today, I respect Djokovic. I acknowledge his presence as the superior player of the day. And I thank him for a being a part of a spectacle I will never forget my entire life.”
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    For the tennis aficionados, care to take a guess what match is being spoken about? Sumedh Natu in top formSumedh Natu in top form.
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  5. If you are as much a fan of reading and watching tennis as I am, you knew what the fifth link was going to be. If you aren’t, and are reading this for the first time, I envy you.

Etc: Links for 22nd November, 2019

  1. Timothy Taylor tells us about the time when Hayek spoke about the inadvisability of the Nobel Prize in Economics… while receiving it himself. It is a speech that reads well.
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  2. “With that in mind, the journalist Oliver Morton has made the marvelous suggestion that if at least some abstemiousness is due to shyness and the inability to find partners (while the promiscuous have relatively little trouble in this regard), then the answer might be to establish a government-funded dating service: bring us a used condom and we’ll get you a date.”
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    I cannot remember how and where I chanced upon this article, but I can assure you that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Steven Landsburg on why more people should have sex, and how that might benefit society – but only up to a point. If you are confused and intrigues, I strongly recommend reading this article.
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  3. “Trapped in the eye of this storm, Joumban and Mae Seang press their faces against each other. With her trunk, Mae Seang gently touches Joumban’s mouth, his tusks, his eyes. He responds in kind. They wrap their trunks around each other and rub foreheads. What must they make of all this?”
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    A gratifyingly long read about elephants, including how to purchase one. By the way, what this reminded me the most of was (if I recall correctly) an MRU video about buying slaves in Africa, and the elasticity of supply. Via the consistently excellent The Browser
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  4. “Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Internet Archive, you can click the name of the book and see a two-page preview of the cited work, so long as the citation specifies a page number. You can also borrow a digital copy of the book, so long as no else has checked it out, for two weeks—much the same way you’d borrow a book from your local library. (Some groups of authors and publishers have challenged the archive’s practice of allowing users to borrow unauthorized scanned books. The Internet Archive says it seeks to widen access to books in “balanced and respectful ways.”)”
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    Wikipedia’s supply chain.
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  5. “But the work of D’Agostino and a handful of other pioneering ketone researchers over the past decade has also led scientists at Harvard, Yale, and other top institutions to consider the diet’s potential to treat other diseases. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and the author of The Emperor of All Maladies, a Pulitzer Prize–winning history of cancer science, is among those interested in whether the ketogenic diet could have a role in cancer therapy.”
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    On the unexpected benefits of the ketogenic diet.