Wednesday 26 May, 2021

Seen in the Children’s Books section of Waterstones on Monday.

Quote of the Day

”The road to ignorance is paved with good editions.”

  • George Bernard Shaw

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Sting & Phil Collins | Money for Nothing | Live


Long Read of the Day

Tim Harford has lunch with Daniel Kahneman


As I wave my plate of paella in front of the webcam, Daniel Kahneman drops the bombshell.

“I have had my lunch.”


A lunch over Zoom was never an especially appetising prospect, and perhaps it was too much to expect Kahneman to play along. He is, after all, 87 years old, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics — despite being a psychologist — and, thanks to the success of his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, vastly more famous than most of his fellow laureates. For the sake of form I ask him to describe the lunch.

“Well, I had sashimi salad and shumai from a restaurant, and to be absolutely complete and precise, I had a baked apple which I baked myself.”

He raises his chin in defiance, then smiles impishly. “And that was my lunch. It was fine. Not exceptional, but it was fine.”

I set my paella to one side; I am somewhat relieved.

Do read on…

Culture war passes most Brits by

I was really cheered up by this — partly because in an online event recently I was asked if I approved of ‘cancel culture’ and had to admit that I didn’t really have a view since I had paid no attention to the various furores about it. (My feeling was that the questioner was astonished by my ignorance.)

But maybe I’m relatively normal. At any rate,

The UK public are as likely to think being “woke” is a compliment (26%) as they are to think it’s an insult (24%) – and are in fact most likely to say they don’t know what the term means (38%), according to a major new study of culture wars in the UK.

The research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, also finds that a majority of the public have heard little to nothing about the phrases “cancel culture” or “identity politics”, and that there is limited awareness of the culture war debate more generally in the UK – despite a huge surge in related media coverage in recent years, from just 21 newspaper articles focused on the issue in the UK in 2015 to over 500 in 2020.

The study is the first in a series of reports that provides an in-depth assessment of the UK’s culture wars.

At last, an original way of challenging Amazon

Yesterday, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, has launched a legal argument against Amazon that is both novel and venerable — and which might yield results.

Here’s how the NYT reports it:

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

Racine has made this claim a centerpiece of his lawsuit. Amazon has said before that merchants have absolute authority to set prices for the products they sell on its site, but that ignores that the company has subtle levers to make merchants’ products all but invisible to shoppers. If a merchant lists a product for less on another site, Amazon can respond by making it more cumbersome for a shopper to buy the item.

Why is this significant? Well, mainly because US competition laws — both as written and as interpreted by generations of judges — make it tricky to sue technology giants for breaking antitrust laws. The interesting thing about Mr Racine’s lawsuit it that it bypasses this by arguing that Amazon hurts the public the same way that 19th-century railroads and steel giants did — by strong-arming competition and raising prices at will.

It’s nice to see legal creativity in some other area than increasing fees.

Why Economics is failing us

A Bloomberg column by Tyler Cowen, himself a distinguished practitioner of the dismal science.

Here’s the dirty little secret that few of my fellow economics professors will admit: As those “perfect” research papers have grown longer, they have also become less relevant. Fewer people — including academics — read them carefully or are influenced by them when it comes to policy.

Actual views on politics are more influenced by debates on social media, especially on such hot topics such as the minimum wage or monetary and fiscal policy. The growing role of Twitter doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Social media is egalitarian, spurs spirited debate and enables research cooperation across great distances.

Still, an earlier culture of “debate through books” has been replaced by a new culture of “debate through tweets.” This is not necessarily progress. Economics is failing us.

I agree with him if by “us” he means democracy.

Another, hopefully interesting, link

“I photoshop Paddington into another movie every day until I forget”. This is daft — and sweet: a guy on Reddit who’s been photoshopping an image of Paddington Bear once a day into a movie. When I looked today he was on Day 77. Link.

H/T to Charles Arthur.

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