Digest 2: Volcker’s mystique, performative government, 999 origins
Highlights of the most interesting things I’ve read/watched/seen the past two weeks...
Argentina raised interest rates to 69.5 per cent as inflation rose to 70 per cent, its highest for 20 years.
Argentina has seen an average of 100% annual inflation for the last century.
If you’d saved $100,000 USD worth of pesos in 1995, they would be worth about $310 USD today.
I know an Argentinian grandma who barely uses a computer, yet as soon as she heard about Bitcoin from her grandson in 2016, she instantly said “Money the government can’t touch? Help me buy it right now,” and she’s been holding it ever since. (An understandable reaction when you’ve seen your country go through 5 different currencies in your lifetime.)
…As you can imagine, there are challenges that come with saving in wads of $100 bills or stacks of bricks. For one thing, they take up a lot of space. Worse, your life savings are also at constant risk of theft, damage, and fire. If something does happen, the bills are not insured or protected by any institution; they’re just gone.
This excellent piece outlines the best (understandable) use case for crypto I have yet read to date.
Judy Shelton: Volcker’s mystique
(~1 minute) ‘People think that those of us on the Fed Board have some kind of secret plan, that if everything goes to hell, we somehow know what it will take to put us back on course… Here’s what they don’t know. We don’t have anything! We don’t know. We’re reading the same things… If people knew the truth, we’d really be in trouble. But the fact that they wrongly believe we have a plan… ironically, that is what saves the system.
In a word, what makes a successful central banker? Mystique.’
Also from the brilliant Judy Shelton:
‘greater output should be the goal when inflation is largely driven by lack of supply’
This is a great book synopsis:
Cindy Yu: how well does the UK understand China?
Last year, The Spectator revealed that there are just 41 diplomats in the Foreign Office who speak fluent Mandarin. A recent study found that, in the UK, there are only 300 graduates of Chinese language each year, a number that hasn’t risen since 1999.
In the Cold War, Whitehall was filled with spies and Russia experts. It was recognised that it was important for Britain to understand the USSR. People such as Alan Bennett and Michael Frayn were taught Russian during their military service. ‘Know thy enemy’ is surely one of the fundamental maxims of international relations, yet at this critical moment, Britain simply doesn’t understand China.
If China is Britain’s number one threat, as Sunak puts it, then we should be doubling, even tripling the funding for organisations like the Great Britain China Centre [which we’re instead closing].
Robb Wolf on ‘clean’ (lab-grown) meat
…And his concerns. [Clipped for speed; not changing sentiment]
On the carbon cycle – clip from the Sacred Cow documentary:
France spends 4x as much on military R&D than the UK – Nature
Shared by @RichardALJones on Twitter:
The UK & France have similar sized economies & similar defence ambitions, but France spends 4x as much on defence R&D.
Some time in the next decade, solar-powered European airships might hover 20 kilometres above battlefields, relaying crucial details about the movement of troops below. These extremely high-altitude drones, or pseudo-satellites, haven’t yet taken flight. They’re one of scores of research and development (R&D) projects supported by the European Defence Fund (EDF), a European Union fund that this July announced the winners of its first set of grants, worth €1.2 billion (US$1.24 billion).
The EDF marks the EU’s first major foray into funding military research collaboratively across the bloc. It had been planned for many years, but its first grants are remarkably timely.
Radio Bikini (Operation Crossroads)
I watched this American Experience documentary on the fourth and fifth detonation of a nuclear bomb, in 1946, as a test (with argued pragmatic sense: to try and bind the UN to a non-proliferation agreement). According to the documentary, roughly a thousand U.S. soldiers were witness, on the pacific island of Bikini Atoll – that the military had in effect seized from locals – and military members were ordered to go out to survey the wreckage without any protective gear.
Many developed radiation-related illnesses (cancers, extreme limb swelling, premature deaths...) and the documentary suggests the U.S. government did nothing to compensate them for over 40 years.
Two things I’m intending to look into further: what actually came from the UN agreement attempt? Was the U.S. government/military as blasé as the documentary suggests, or has this been exaggerated?
Different ways for billionaires to try and do good – Bismarck Brief
Elon Musk or Jack Dorsey... pursue a strategy of founding new companies that will develop and market new products and technologies that they believe will have positive externalities on society or solve key social problems.
Founder-philanthropists like Bill Gates, whose Gates Foundation—the largest nonprofit organization in the world—pursues a big-budget program of applying market-based solutions to problems typically considered to require public works and aid… “Philanthrocapitalist” organizations such as the Gates Foundation have long claimed a moral duty to fund philanthropic projects.
[Marc] Benioff prefers to passively fund established civic institutions without taking the reins himself, while using his prestige as the CEO and public face of Salesforce to persuade other executives and managers in the corporate world to do the same, both individually and through the institutional machinery of the companies they run. Benioff has financed public transit and housing initiatives in San Francisco, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Marvin Lewis, a local San Francisco-area politician. Benioff values the longevity of incumbent civic institutions but seems to have little desire to participate beyond serving as a benefactor… There is a substantial difference in that Benioff is willing to work directly with legislators; he seemingly sees little value in a parallel institutional network in which corporations and their nonprofits serve as the sole distributors of privatized social services.
Alexander Berger, a foundational principle of Effective Altruism:
the point is to actually achieve the most good, not sacrifice as much as possible.
London Resilience Forum:
999 is the world’s oldest emergency telephone number. It was initially introduced in 1937 to a small area around Oxford Circus following the deaths of five women at a house fire on Wimpole Street, Marylebone.
Thanks for reading!