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Weekly selection
13 April 2018

5 insightful op-eds or articles to help make sense of today’s world

  • Barry Eichengreen, “Can a Trade War be Averted?”

    (Project Syndicate - 10 April 2018)

    This is one of today’s most pressing questions. The economist thinks the answer is yes: a trade war can be averted. Because China has a higher export-to-GDP ratio than the US, its leaders are more concerned with defending the global trading system than with preserving any particular bilateral balance. By eschewing escalation in response to the Trump administration's widening tariffs on its exports, China avoids jeopardizing the system (reads in 5-6 min).

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  • Amy Merrick, “Walmart's Future Workforce: Robots and Freelancers”

    (The Atlantic - 4 April 2018)

    Signs abound that most economies, but the US one in particular, are tilting further towards jobs that give workers less market power. Walmart epitomizes this trend: it is raising wages, but its plans to use more gig labor and automation put workers at a disadvantage. In a nutshell, the labour markers are being ‘gig-ified’, with the ensuing concern: not about the number of jobs, but whether those jobs can support a reasonable standard of living (reads in 6-8 min).

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  • Simina Mistreanu, “Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory”

    (Foreign Policy - metered paywall - 3 April 2018)

    The party’s massive experiment in ranking and monitoring Chinese citizens through a social credit system designed to promote “trustworthiness” has already started. This article describes how it works. So far, the scheme has been embraced by the communities in which it’s been tested because it only deducts points for breaking the law: it is precise in its punishment and generous in its rewards. Moving forward, it’s hard not to think of an Orwellian world in which high tech monitors everybody’s behaviour (reads in about 10 min).

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  • Barry Ritholtz, “Don't Blame Amazon for the Retail Apocalypse”

    (Bloomberg - 9 April 2018)

    The editorialist argues that Amazon is a symptom, not the cause, of the “retail apocalypse” currently engulfing the US. First, the US has a huge excess of retail space (surpassing all other developed nations by a wide margin: 23.6 square feet of retail space/person versus 4.6 in the UK).  Second, price sensitivity is a natural response to decades of wage stagnation. Third, the younger generations are changing their consumption habits. An interesting and short read (5 min) with lessons for the rest of the world.

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  • Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “The Germs that Love Diet Soda”

    (The New York Times - metered paywall - 6 April 2018)

    There are lots of reasons to avoid processed foods. They’re often packed with sugar, fat and salt, and they tend to lack certain nutrients critical to health, like fiber. And now, new research suggests that some of the additives that extend the shelf life and improve the texture of these foods may have unintended side effects - not on our bodies directly, but on the human microbiome, the trillions of bacteria living in our guts (reads in 5-6 min).

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