Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Classical Liberalism in Romania, Past and Present

April 4, 2023

Radu Nechita and Vlad Tarko in this EJW article trace liberalism in Romania:

From its beginnings in the 19th century to the present day, liberalism in Romania has been closely linked with efforts to integrate Romania within Western European culture and politics. The movement was originally oriented primarily against foreign dominating powers (the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungary, and Russia) and their local agents, rather than against the Romanian government as a vector of oppression. The main objective of the liberal movement has been to build and control a ‘national state’ that would then pursue modernization and institutional reform. After the fall of the communist regime, the classical-liberal tradition had to be rediscovered and even rebuilt.


Nation Building: Big Lessons from Successes and Failures

March 3, 2023

CEPR has released a new e-book on what it takes to build nations.

This book presents a synthesis of key recent advances in political-economy research on the various approaches and strategies used in the process of building nations throughout modern history. It features chapters written by leading scholars who describe the findings of their quantitative analyses of the risks and benefits of different nation-building policies. The book is comprised of 26 chapters organised into six sections, each focusing on a different aspect of nation building. The first chapter presents a unified framework for assessing nation-building policies, highlights potential challenges that may arise, provides a summary of each of the other chapters, and draws out the main lessons from them. The following chapters delve into the importance of social interactions for national identification, the role of education, propaganda and leadership, external interventions and wars, and the effects of representation and redistribution. The book offers a nuanced understanding of effective nation-building policies.

Key Lessons/ideas?:
Drawing on the insights of the eBook, five key lessons can be formulated:
  • Democracy is the backbone of sustainable and peaceful nation building. First of all, as shown throughout the book, the fate of nation states in all zones of the polarisation–segregation space are more favourable for democracies. This is particularly crucial in the zone of low polarisation and low segregation, when the nation-building strategy is in building a unitary state with a strong national identity, as democracy helps escape the perils of nationalist madness and fascism in this context.
  • Inter-group contact with horizontal equality and security guarantees can reduce inter-group animosity and promote a melting pot society. As shown in Section II of the book, in high-polarisation settings, more peaceful and fair interaction between groups nurtures inter-group trust. Importantly, local and national identities are not mutually exclusive. They are not a zero-sum game, as positive interaction can foster a sense of belonging to both the country and a local community.
  • Fostering a positive common identity, for example through education, is key with high polarisation and low segregation. In countries with high ethnolinguistic polarisation, where the groups share the same territory, fostering a common inter-group identity by building a ‘melting pot’ society is the only way to avoid discrimination and inter-group hostilities. As shown in Sections III and IV of the book, while democracies typically stress positive values of tolerance and common destiny through public education, some autocracies choose indoctrination and defamation of minorities both in education or through media propaganda with often dire consequences. Reducing polarisation by opening up to diverse migrants could reduce salience of the group divisions and facilitate the melting pot.
  • Power-sharing and federalism are crucial in high-segregation settings. As shown in Section VI of the book, power-sharing and federalist policies provide the glue holding together high-polarisation, high-segregation countries.
  • Unilateral military interventions and military aid often backfires in terms of their effect on attitudes of local population, yet UN peacekeeping security guarantees work to reduce conflict. As shown in Section V of the book, nation building pursued militarily from outside faces many risks and pitfalls, but multilateral UN peacekeeping can create the favourable ground conditions for national reconciliation in post-conflict settings.

Evolution of Indian cities, land use restrictions, charter cities and more

March 3, 2023

Shruti Rajagopalan in her latest podcast talks to Alain Bertaud who has written this book “Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.”

In this episode, Shruti speaks with Alain Bertaud about how Indian cities have evolved, utilities pricing, land use restrictions such as floor area ratio and floor space index, slums, charter cities, urbanization in Africa and much more. Bertaud is an urbanist, distinguished visiting scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and senior research scholar at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management. From 1980 to 1999, he was the principal urban planner at the World Bank. His book about urban planning is titled “Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.”

From Mastercard to World Bank, Ajay Banga faces a similar set of challenges

February 27, 2023

The US President has nominated Ajay Banga as President of World Bank.

In my new moneycontol article, I argue how Ajay Banga finds himself facing similr challenges as he faced heading Mastercard.

ChatGPT Interviewed: ‘My Strengths and My Limits’

February 17, 2023

Subhashis Banerjee is a professor of computer science with Ashoka University and IIT Delhi interviews ChatGPT on TheIndiaForum:

Subhashis Banerjee (SB): Hi ChatGPT, let us have a conversation about yourself?

ChatGPT: Of course! I am an AI language model created by OpenAI, trained on a diverse range of internet text to generate human-like responses to questions and prompts. My training data consists of billions of words from websites, books, and other texts, allowing me to generate responses to a wide variety of questions on many topics. Is there anything specific you’d like to know?

SB: As I understand, when given a prompt, such as a question or a sentence fragment, you generate a response by predicting the next word in your output sequence depending on pre-trained weights, one word at a time. Is that correct?

ChatGPT: Yes, that’s correct! I use a deep neural network with a transformer architecture to generate my responses. Given an input prompt, I encode it into a numerical representation and then use that representation to predict the next word in the output sequence, one word at a time. This process continues until I generate an output of the desired length or until a stopping token is generated. The probabilities for the next word are computed using the pre-trained weights in my model, which were learned during training on large amounts of text data.

SB: Can you tell me a bit more about your internal architecture, the number of internal parameters you have, and about transformers and neural networks?

ChatGPT: Sure! I’m based on the transformer architecture, which is a type of neural network specifically designed for processing sequential data, such as text. A transformer network consists of an encoder and a decoder, which are both composed of multiple identical layers, each containing multi-head self-attention mechanisms and fully connected feed forward layers.

The encoder takes the input sequence and produces a continuous, fixed-length representation of the sequence, which is then passed to the decoder. The decoder uses this representation to generate the output sequence, one word at a time.

As for the internal parameters, the size of a language model like me is usually measured in terms of the number of parameters in the model, and I have a very large number of parameters. For example, the GPT-3 model, which is one of the largest models developed by OpenAI, has over 175 billion parameters. Having a large number of parameters allows the model to capture a lot of information from the training data, but it also means that the model requires a lot of computational resources to run.

In summary, transformers are a type of neural network that are well suited for processing sequential data, such as text, and I am an implementation of the transformer architecture specifically designed for generating text.

🙂 Lots more in the interview…

Prof  Banerjee generally on ChatGPT:

The ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) tool launched by OpenAI in November last year is the closest Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come to passing the Turing test of intelligence, on whether a machine can engage in a conversation with a human without being detected as a machine. It can write computer programs and poetry in specified styles, write essays and letters, can seemingly do logical reasoning and make new hypotheses, and sometimes can even suggest plausible methods of proving a theorem to a professor on a research problem. It also makes mistakes, not only in reasoning, but sometimes even on factual matters.

More such tools with more enhanced capabilities will inevitably follow. While whether such machines can really do human-like reasoning or truly exhibit intelligence are open questions in computer science and philosophy, it is undeniable that such tools will have a profound impact on education and skill building as we know them today. They not only provide new opportunities but also new challenges. Without doubt, society needs to understand, debate and evolve methods to deal with such disruptions.

ChatGPT is a great technological innovation, but there are some real dangers of innocent and ordinary readers being seduced by the surface coherence and sophistication of the text generated.

I engaged ChatGPT in a couple of conversations on itself to understand these issues better, and this is a transcript curated from the two conversations. While the questions were leading, the answers were not forced out of ChatGPT. There were just two sessions with very similar questions, and ChatGPT’s answers in the two sessions were remarkably consistent. The original and unedited transcripts of the sessions are linked here and here.

Since the questions were leading, and the answers are from a machine, some crucial questions arise. Whose opinions – and mistakes, if any — are reflected in the conversations? Mine? Is ChatGPT just mirroring my opinions and biases? ChatGPT’s, if such a notion makes sense at all? OpenAI’s? Nobody’s? Or is it democratised conventional wisdom that is curated and generalised from millions of written text all over the world? If so, who all are responsible for these opinions and how they may be reviewed?

[A]rtifacts rarely are politics-free, and statements like “I am simply a tool created to assist and serve, and it’s up to people like you to determine how AI is used and its impact on society.’’ are problematic…

ChatGPT is a great technological innovation, but there are some real dangers of innocent and ordinary readers being seduced by the surface coherence and sophistication of the text generated, and accepting things on their face value without closer examination. One only wishes that some responsible and ethical directions also originate from the Big Tech companies when they unleash such products, rather than leave it to some hapless students and a bewildered society to deal with them. After all, artifacts rarely are politics-free, and statements like “I am simply a tool created to assist and serve, and it’s up to people like you to determine how AI is used and its impact on society.’’ are problematic to say the least.


Copper should be named a critical mineral following Peru’s political crisis

February 10, 2023

Cullen Hendrix of PIIE on how Peru’s political crisis is posing problems for supply of copper:

Is copper a critical mineral, essential to US economic and national security, and vulnerable to supply chain disruption? According to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and thus the US government, the answer is no. But copper shortages in the face of rising demand, coupled with rising insecurity and instability in copper-producing Peru, should give the Biden administration reason to consider making an exception and adding copper to the US list of critical minerals.


…..Copper is a vital ingredient in renewable energy technologies—solar panels, batteries, wind turbines, etc.—and therefore essential for combating climate change. Copper also has a host of wider applications in industry and national defense. The International Energy Agency forecasts global copper demand will more than double by 2040 solely due to rising demand for clean energy.

….the security of diffuse global supply chains and production in US-friendly economies is still vulnerable to disruptions in producer countries. The ability and willingness of copper producing countries to keep supplying copper can change rapidly. And trends in Peru may affect both. Regarding ability, production at key Peruvian mines has been either halted (Glencore’s Antapaccay mine) or slowed (Freeport McMoRan’s Cerro Verde). These developments may be short lived. The longer-term outlook regarding willingness to keep the mines open is murkier, however. Protesters in Peru have assailed the country’s constitution as overly friendly to private investors, which raises the prospect that a new constitution—or amendments to the current one—would favor national ownership and control and discourage outside investment.

Designate copper a critical mineral:

A constitution with a more nationalist approach to natural resources might not help address protesters’ broader grievances with political and economic corruption, but it could lead to more deferred maintenance and deteriorating supply stability, as it has in Venezuela’s nationally owned petroleum industry. While Latin America is viewed as less politically volatile than other mineral-rich regions—particularly sub-Saharan Africa—these political and issues could curb the region’s economic growth potential.

Designating copper as critical to national and economic security would lead to enhanced scrutiny from the USGS, which tracks minerals markets, production, and reserves. Industry advocates also believe that the designation might lead to streamlined permitting processes that would facilitate more domestic production. Securing the necessary permits for greenfield mine projects is a complicated process that requires not just federal permission but engagement with local and state governments, environmental assessments, and securing the assent of the communities and other stakeholders that will host the projects. These are good and necessary steps. But bolstering domestic mineral supply chains will require expediting these processes.

The ongoing political crisis across the world is leading to disruption of production of many minerals. This in turn is making countries relook at their own stock of natural resources and policies to replenish these very stocks..

Stories vs Statistics: Which is better for memory?

February 10, 2023

Thomas Graeber, Christopher Roth and Florian Zimmermann in this voxeu post:

Widespread misperceptions shape attitudes on key societal topics, such as climate change and the recent pandemic. These belief distortions are puzzling in contexts where accurate statistical information is broadly available and attended to. This column argues that the nature of human memory may be key for understanding the persistence of misperceptions in practice. It documents that anecdotal information in the form of stories comes to mind more easily than statistical information, generating the potential for systematic belief biases.

Not surprised to read this. who remembers statistics?

Why do stories tend to stick, while statistics tend to be more rapidly forgotten? To make progress on this question, we start with a simple formal framework that builds on models that conceptualise the cue-dependent nature of episodic memory (Bordalo et al. 2021, 2023). Experiences such as the consumption of stories and statistics are stored as memory traces that are connected through associations. Recall of these traces is triggered by contextual cues. The key drivers of recall are similarity and interference. The higher the similarity between a memory trace and a cue, the more likely successful retrieval becomes. A higher number of non-target memory traces that are similar to the target trace weakens recall, as these non-target traces interfere with the successful retrieval of the target trace.

The model can account for the story-statistic gap. The reason stories stick according to our model is that the rich, contextualised information contained in stories makes them distinct from non-target memory traces. As a consequence, they suffer less from interference.

In tailored mechanism experiments, we test some of the core predictions of the model. The following insights emerge: First, the contextual features of stories give them an advantage over statistical information and cause the relatively high recall rates. This insight can be used to boost the long-run belief impact of statistics. Once contextual features are added to statistics, their recall rates improve. Second, in line with the principle of interference, the story-statistic gap increases in the total number of product scenarios participants are exposed to. Third, stories lose their edge over statistics in situations where participants are exposed to many similar stories that compete for retrieval.

Policy implications? Tell more stories:

Our results have ramifications for the effects of news coverage and mass media on belief formation. The mass media cover many topics not only by providing facts and statistics, but they frequently rely on anecdotes about individual cases that provide detailed qualitative, anecdotal information. For example, consider allegations about election fraud in the context of the 2020 US presidential election, where some outlets reported stories about individual instances of election fraud, even though these constituted rare exceptions.

Our results also bear implications for how policymakers, marketers, or leaders should communicate with their audiences: communication of statistical information can be greatly enhanced by complementing it with contextual anecdotes. For example, when discussing economic figures, it can be beneficial to provide anecdotes that are consistent with and relevant to the statistics being presented. Finally, our research also highlights the importance of timing in persuasion: statistics and facts are more effective when messaging is delivered close to the audience’s anticipated action, whereas stories are more effective when there is a delay involved.


ChatGPT and the Future of Business Education

February 3, 2023

Knowledge@INSEAD points to views of some of the professsors on impact of ChatGPT  on Business Education:

Over a million users have tested the potential and limits of ChatGPT – a chatbot developed by AI research company OpenAI – to write emails, poems or code, or even produce entire research papers. The chatbot recently passed a Wharton School MBA exam, prompting further admiration and alarm.

Several academic journal publishers have banned authors from using ChatGPT, and professors are changing exams and assignments in response to the tool. But is ChatGPT a tipping point that will change business schools as we know them?

While many of us are stunned by how impressive and natural the output can be, it doesn’t mean it’s useful for everything we do. Here’s what we’ve found are the major implications for research, teaching and learning.

Interesting observations…

Neoliberalism’s New Poster Child: Revisiting India’s “Growth Story”

February 3, 2023

Prof C. P. Chandrasekhar who retired from JNU in the TheIndiaForum article gives an alternative perspective on India Growth Story:

The advocates of neoliberal policies for the less developed countries have always derived their strength from pointing, often wrongly, to the exceptional economic performance of one or more countries that are identified as having adopted such policies and maintained a close and subordinate relationship with the advanced capitalist world. In the 1970s, South Korea and Taiwan were the favourites, though many pointed to the fact that these governments were by no means neoliberal in terms of their policy stance. The second-tier Asian industrialisers like Thailand and Malaysia, with their manufacturing export boom, were the choices in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Southeast Asian crisis of 1997 that resulted directly from the liberalisation of financial sectors in these economies deprived advocates of liberalisation of these ‘miracles’ that were showcased as examples of the benefits of neoliberal policy regimes.

For a time, China, recording spectacular growth while it embraced market-friendly policies and relied on export markets and foreign investment to raise rates of growth, appeared to offer an option. But what it lacked was the willingness to maintain a close, let alone subordinate, relationship with western powers. After a brief period of bonhomie, China became the enemy rather than an ally of neoliberal advance, accused of turning surreptitiously protectionist, stealing technology and trade secrets, and posing a geopolitical challenge to peace in Asia and elsewhere in the world.

The West needed a new neoliberal exemplar, and India given it size, its hostility to China, its willing to ally with the US, and with its commitment to neoliberal policies that has only intensified, was an obvious candidate. The difficulty was that India was no export-led manufacturing success. Rather, it was a failure as a manufacturing nation, with the share of manufacturing in total value added in the post-Independence era peaking at around 18 per cent, as compared to the 35-40 per cent standard set by the earlier models of neoliberal success.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand to build foreign exchnage reserves

January 25, 2023

Before 2008, the consensus was central banks should just target inflation and leave everythig else.  Post 2008 crisis, all kinds of things happening in world of central banking. The objectives are constantly expanding from monetary stability to growth, unemployment, financial stabiliy, climate change and so on.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand which pioneered inflation targeting was seen behind the pre-2008 consensus. All this is changing big time. The objective has been expanded to included financial stabiluty and employment.

As per latest developments, the central bank has signed an agreement with the government to intervene in foreign exchange markets and build foreign exchange reserves

We hold and manage foreign reserves in order to be able to intervene in the New Zealand dollar (NZD) market for financial stability or monetary policy reasons. Foreign reserves are safe and liquid assets held in currencies, such as United States dollars, Euros, and Australian dollars.

Our chairman Professor Neil Quigley says a well-functioning foreign exchange market is critical to New Zealand’s economy with many people — including exporters, importers, borrowers and investors — reliant on these markets to exchange New Zealand dollars for foreign currency.

“While foreign reserves are rarely used, it is important for us to be prepared to support the foreign exchange market in exceptional circumstances to maintain financial stability and ensure essential transactions can continue to occur.”  

As part of the framework, both the Reserve Bank and the Minister of Finance are required to agree to a level of foreign reserves that we should hold in order to meet our objectives. The level of foreign reserves had been largely unchanged since 2007. 

Given the growth in the economy and foreign exchange market since then, the Minister of Finance and our Board have agreed that an increase to foreign reserves holdings is needed. 

“The transition to this higher level of foreign reserves will take place over a number of years, in order to minimise the market impact,” Governor Adrian Orr said.

Due to market and policy sensitivities, we do not intend to make public any further details on the size or composition of this increase. However, our foreign reserves holdings will continue to be published on our website on a monthly basis.  

The Framework maintains the Monetary Policy Committee’s right to intervene in the exchange rate when the New Zealand dollar has moved to exceptionally low or high levels that cannot be justified by economic fundamentals. Interventions are expected to be rare and consistent with the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy objectives.


Tribute to Mr BV Doshi

January 25, 2023

The highly accomplished architect Mr BV Doshi passed away in Ahmedabad yesterday. I am not a student of architecture and have no idea about the subject. However, I have had the privilege to study and work in his designed architectures of excellence. I just want to thank you Sir for imagining the unimagined.

For the unititated, see his video on his thoughts and philosophy on designing campus of IIM Bangalore.  We barely pay attention on what thinking and effort goes into designing fine architecture.

Prof Chinamy Tumbe pays a fine tribute. Mr Bimal Patel of CEPT University shares memories.

University of Chicago Booth School’s 125th Anniversary

January 12, 2023

Booth School celebrating its 125 anniversary in 2023

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of Booth’s founding in 1898, the Booth community celebrates our transformative approach to business education, the innovative ideas of our faculty, our culture of diverse perspectives and collaboration, and the global impact of our entire Booth community.

Beginning now, and throughout 2023, we are celebrating our 125th anniversary. From events across the globe to an oral history project for our alumni to activities on social media and retrospective features, join us as we showcase the impact of Booth over the past 125 years, celebrate this important milestone as a community, and present to you how Booth is poised to continue to impact the future.

Dr C Rangarajan’s 91st birthday

January 9, 2023

Ahmedabad University recently celebrated and felicitated Dr C Rangarajan on his 91st birthday at its 4th annual economics conference.

What a career he has had and more importantly what a person he is despite all the achievements. Tremendous inspiration for generations. He shows why age is just a number.   He has just written an account of his policy days.

I wrote a few lines on his birthday.

Dr Rangarajan @91

As India reflects on its financial sector reforms of nineteen ninety one,
The captain who led the reforms has also turned  ninety one.
And when that captain writes a book on the reforms at that age,
We know he is a special person on the world stage.

He started career as a teacher of economics,
Appointed RBI Deputy Governor as one of the few  from academics.
He chaired many a committees at the Central Bank,
Gradually shaping himself as an economic think tank.

The 1991 crisis hit all of India’s economic targets,
Needing to change economic policy from planning to markets.
Just like Kapil Dev with whom he nearly shares his birthday,
He led the reforms which has shaped Indian economy as we see it today .

He has  served public for so long,
There is barely a policy position he has not  been on,
From being the RBI governor to holding finance commission chairmanship,
Is like running on the Friedman road and then taking a Keynesian trip.

Even Gods marvel at his work ethic,
All humans can do is to admire and applaud his magic.
We pray that Gods continue to bless him with happiness and health,
So that he can  keep writing books sharing his wealth.


Turkey: A 100-year-old democracy with ups and downs

January 4, 2023

In 2023, the Turkish republic will celebrate its 100th birthday with an election that could usher in a new turning point in its history.

The Republic of Turkey was founded 100 years ago. Since then, the country has experienced a transformation from a single-party into a multi-party system, a military coup in 1960, violence on its streets for almost a decade in the 70s, followed by another coup and many unstable coalition governments in the 90s, and an Islamist rise to power in 2002. 

Amid all these minor and major setbacks, the Turkish state, built on Western ideals such as democracy, equality, the rule of law and secularism, has survived and will celebrate its centenary year next year. 

How resilient are Turkey’s democratic institutions, though, as it turns 100?

The Best Economics Books of 2022 recommended by Jason Furman

December 14, 2022

The time of the year where people give lists for 2022 and for 2023.

Jason Furman, a Harvard economics professor and former adviser to Barack Obama, picks out five of the best economics books of 2022 and book topics he will like to see in 2023.

five books for 2022

  • The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality by Oded Galor
  • Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Centuryby Brad DeLong
  • Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Succes by Leah Boustan & Ran Abramitzky
  • Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It by Richard V Reeves
  • Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller

on 2023:

Humans are always the most important driver of economic growth, and they were an important part of the story in every one of the five books that I recommended. There is almost no limit to the study that can be done to try to understand the human aspects of economic growth.

In 2023, the spotlight will grow on the levelling-off and potential reduction of globalization that we’re going through. This will be a big issue going forward. Fifteen years ago, there was a whole raft of books about globalization. We might start to want to read or research and write about de-globalization, as we might be in the beginning of that process.

And finally, the rehabilitation of industrial policy is an area of increasing importance. ‘Industrial policy’ used to be an insult levied against ill-conceived government plans; now, governments around the world are increasingly comfortable getting directly involved in industry. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is one of the many things worth reading about in 2023.

Industrial policy…hmmm

From Tiananmen to COVID: Modern China’s Protests in Photos

December 6, 2022

Lindsay Maizland, Author and Sabine Baumgartner, Photo Editor of CFR in this photo essay show Modern China’s Protests in Photos.


Archiving 150 years of Zurich Insurance

October 27, 2022

Zurich Insurance is celebrating 150th anniversary.

On October 22, 1872, 10 men met in the city of Zurich to found a corporate entity with the name Versicherungs-Verein (Insurance Association). The new company would become what we know today as Zurich, the global insurer. It was initially set up as a subsidiary of another marine insurance company that these same men had founded in 1869. In the Zurich region back then, the real money was in textiles. Insurance was, and still, is important for the textile industry. The many textile factories that had sprung up in eastern Switzerland, a region that includes Zurich, relied on cotton from America, India and Egypt, and imported raw silk, sending finished goods abroad. Transport and shipping were their lifelines.

It’s no surprise then that four of Zurich’s youngest founders, Heinrich Emil Streuli- Hüni, Adolf Guyer-Zeller, Carl Abegg-Arter and Robert Schwarzenbach, were running private textile businesses. With the exception of Guyer-Zeller, they took over the family-owned business when they signed Zurich into life. The latest venture was just one of many going concerns. They also engaged in politics, served on boards of several Swiss companies and took speculative bets on the risky growth industry of the age – railroads. The Northern Railway completed its first line between Zurich and Baden in 1840

Lot of stuff on the website.

Credit to the archivist team for putting things together:

Zurich’s archive team are a dedicated and fun crew that has done a lot behind the scenes to bring the 150th anniversary to life. So slip on your white gloves, break out those 19th century ledgers and get ready to belt out ‘I Will Survive’!

Thomas Inglin and Christofer Stadlin are approaching an ultra-modern, nondescript building, about the size of an airport hangar, outside Zurich’s city limits on a recent weekday morning. It’s in the middle of nowhere really, where exactly in the middle of nowhere, I can’t say; I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Direction Ikea, let’s call it.

You can understand why they are overprotective. This high-security fortress – out of a Bond film, and one of the recent Daniel Craig variety – is the new, year-old home for the archives of Zurich Insurance Company Ltd. (Zurich), which marks its 150th anniversary this month.

Considering that Thomas is Head of Corporate Archives and Christofer is the Records Manager, the anniversary is their Super Bowl, their World Cup, their Olympics, all rolled into one. This building, despite its sterility, houses the soul of Zurich – their Wembley – and they can’t stop talking about it.

The facility, they tell me, is one of only three in the world that could withstand a magnitude 10 earthquake, even if there’s never been such a thing. It’s fireproof and, apparently, could withstand a nuclear attack.

“There could be Armageddon and this building will remain,” says Christofer, a native of the nearby town of Zug, though he’s been in the city so long he considers himself a Züricher. “Aliens will come down and only find the Zurich archives.”

Zurich insurance is making all effirts to insure its history,,,,

End of crypto summer in Bali islands

September 6, 2022

Harry Jacques in IMF’s Finance and Development magazine;

The Indonesian island became a base for crypto entrepreneurs, but few priced in the crypto winter.

Many cryptocurrency speculators with an instinct for arbitrage were drawn to the possibilities of Bali’s crypto summer, with high-end amenities at far lower cost than in San Francisco or Singapore.

Few appeared to have priced in the emergence of a crypto winter—Bitcoin fell from an all-time-high above $68,000 in November 2021 to below $20,000 in June as some exchanges paused withdrawals and alternative assets collapsed.

Charles Kindleberger who wrote the famous book manias, panics and crashes would have said told ya! Human hubris and follies never cease to surprise.

Corporations under autocracy: Lessons from Russian and German history

August 23, 2022

Caroline Fohlin  and Amanda Gregg in this voxeu piece:

Political institutions have important implications for economic growth. One key channel is through the impact on industrial activity. This column compares the impact of political institutions in Germany and Russia on corporations pre-WW1 to isolate the impact of political and economic openness, as the two countries were similar in other characteristics such as their autocratic political regimes, civil law legal systems, and their late industrialisation. Russia corporations faced greater barriers to entry, which resulted in fewer corporations, and greater reliance on bank debt, due to weaker development of Russian financial markets.

What Happens when Big Brother Meets Big Tech

July 29, 2022

Lynn Parramore of INET interviews University of Tennessee law professor Maurice Stucke who has has been critical as tech firms have grown into giant “data-opolies” profiting from surveillance and manipulation. He warns that legislative inaction and wider government complicity in this surveillance are eroding fundamental rights to privacy along with the ability of federal agencies to regulate Big Tech.

Lynn Parramore: Concern over privacy is increasing right now, with people worrying about different aspects of the concept. Can you say a bit about what privacy means in a legal context? With the digital revolution, privacy obviously means something different than it did 50 years ago.

MS: Yes, privacy is not a single unitary concept. There are different strands. There’s bodily privacy and decisional privacy – the right to make important decisions about one’s life, like whether to have a child or not, without governmental interference. Within the bucket of decisional privacy would also be marriage, contraception, and things of that nature. There’s intellectual privacy (such as what one reads, watches, or thinks) and associational privacy (such as the freedom to choose with whom one associates). Informational privacy is another strand, where you can control your personal information, including the purpose for which it is used.

There used to be the idea that data protection and privacy are fundamental human rights.

Numerous supporters of privacy rights have argued that U.S. Constitution should protect an individual’s right to control his or her personal information. One of the earlier Supreme Court cases involving informational privacy tested that belief. New York passed a law requiring doctors to disclose to the government their patients’ name, age, and address when they were prescribed certain drugs. All of this information was collected in a database in New York. A group of patients and their prescribing doctors challenged the law, contending that it invaded their constitutionally-protected privacy interests. The case was decided in 1977 — before the Internet and cloud computing. The Supreme Court, however, did not perceive any threat to privacy implicit in the accumulation of vast amounts of personal information in computerized data banks or other massive government files. The Court instead noted how the mainframe computer storing the data was isolated, not connected to anything else. Today, the data are not collected and maintained on some isolated mainframe. A torrent of data is being collected about us that we may not even have thought about. When you go to purchase gas at the local station, for example, you may not think of the privacy implications of that transaction. But there are powerful entities that collect vast reservoirs of first-party data from customers, and also sources that are reselling it, like the data brokers.

Congress, unlike the Supreme Court, recognized in the 1970s that the privacy of an individual is directly affected by the government’s collection, use, and dissemination of personal information and that the government’s increasing use of computers and sophisticated information technology has greatly magnified the harm to individual privacy. The preamble of the Privacy Act of 1974, enacted by Congress, states that privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. It was a landmark law in seeking to provide individuals greater control over their personal data in government files.

But the Supreme Court, on two occasions when it had the opportunity, declined to hold that the Constitution protects informational privacy as a personal and fundamental right. A majority of the justices just punted. They said that even if one assumed that such a right existed, it did not prevent the government from collecting the information it sought in both cases. Justices Scalia and Thomas were blunter in their concurring opinion: they simply argued that there is no constitutional right to informational privacy.


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