‘The Economist’ Feb. 4th – 10th 2017


I’ve given myself a mean homework assignment. I bought a 12 week subscription to ‘The Economist’ for $12 and am annotating every issue. I have a feeling that for all of these the main topic will be Donald Trump and if there’s one thing our new president has taught me it’s to always get your money’s worth!

This week was especially easy because I was on vacation all week. Still, no WAY did I have time to delve into all that’s covered. 1 of 12.


Donald Trump being elected president must be one of the most all-consuming news story since Kurt Cobain committed suicide. There’s no doubt that 9/11 was more consequential, but I say that because I remember reading a yellowed old issue of TIME from 1994 as a teen in the early 2000’s and was amazed that every other article throughout the magazine seemed to reference Cobain’s death, regardless of what the article was ostensibly about. Reading on a decade removed from the events being written about I was amazed that one person could saturate headlines so thoroughly. The Economist is just as preoccupied with our 45th president. Uneasiness with the red tide of nationalism blowing through the western world permeates this issue.

“The problem with certain populist politicians is not that they mislabel an x-axis here or fail to specify a control group there. Rather they deliberately promulgate blatant lies which play to voters’ irrationalities and insecurities.”

—Book review for A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics by Daniel Levitin

I love the nod to Banksy in the cover. Where is that man? We need him now more than ever.

Inside, my favorite articles had to do with youth voting, and the proposition of lowering the voting age to 16 as a relatively harmless way to instill good voting habits in increasingly disenfranchised youth. The biggest surprise I learned was that Mars candy is investing heavily in the dog food and veterinary-care business because while chocolate sales stagnate they are second only to Nestle in pet food manufacturing. And this op-ed about Silicon Valley’s negligent and ruinous social irresponsibility got me plenty fired up.

There is a fascinating online history exhibit: Project 1917, which documents the daily goings-on of the Russian Revolution:

“To watch this all transpire in real time is to experience people’s inability to grasp the history they are living. The tsar records banal details of his daily routine—breakfasts, meetings, walks—like a 17th century monarch trying to inhabit the modernist age. Lenin plots revolution from Zurich, while doubting he will live to see it. Many can sense that change is coming, and want to hasten it along. But none imagines the enormity of what actually unfolded.”


My favorite random facts:

“People take in five times as much information each day as they did in the mid-1980s.”

“For every dollar of cash the tech industry makes, it reinvests 24 cents; that compares with 50 cents for other non-financial firms.

“The 12 deadly acts of terrorism committed on American soil since September 11th 2001 have been by American citizens or legal residents, according to New America, a think-tank. The September 11th murderers were from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, none of which were subject to the ban.”

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“Griftopia” by Matt Taibbi


The ability of its citizens to lose focus so quickly and be distracted by everything from Lebronamania to the immigration debate is part of what makes America so ripe for this particular type of corporate crime. We have voters who don’t pay attention, a news media that either ignores key subjects or willfully misunderstands them, and a regulatory environment that bends easily to lobbying and campaign financing efforts. And we’ve got a superpower’s worth of accumulated wealth that is still there for the taking. You put all that together, and what you get is a thieves’ paradise—a Griftopia.

This book should be read in conjunction with Michael Lewis’ The Big Short. Griftopia examines the culture that created the 2008 financial crisis from a bird’s-eye-view. From the Ayn Randian Objectivist sense of self-entitlement emboldening Alan Greenspan and bankers on Wall Street to pursue profit and self-interest at the expense of everyone else to how our political system divides us and kicks the proverbial can down the road without solving anything. The subject is upsetting, but Taibbi approaches the subject with wicked humor and a far-reaching perspective.

There were so many quotes in this book that shocked and amused me. Here are a couple of the most flabbergasting:

Here’s the real punch line. After playing an intimate role in three historic bubble catastrophes, after helping $5 trillion in wealth disappear from the NASDAQ in the early part of the 2000s, after pawning off thousands of toxic mortgages on pensioners and cities, after helping drive the price of gas up above $4.60 a gallon for half a year, and helping 100 million new people around the world join the ranks of the hungry, and securing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars through a series of bailouts, what did Goldman Sachs give back to the people of the United States in 2008?
Fourteen million dollars.
That is what the firm paid in taxes in 2008: an effective tax rate of exactly 1, read it, one percent.



Thanks to our completely fucked corporate tax system, companies like Goldman can ship their revenues offshore and defer taxes on those revenues indefinitely, even while they claim deductions up front on that same untaxed income. This is why any corporation with an at least occasionally sober accountant can usually find a way to pay no taxes at all. A Government Accountability Office report, in fact, found that between 1998 and 2005,two-thirds of all corporations operating in the United States paid no taxes at all.

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