Digest: 15 September 2013

Abstract

Metaphors reflect embedded intention and have the potential to systemically influence behavior, so while we use them as tools for communicating policy, it is important that we carefully consider their use. –  Governments have an important role to play in creating innovative businesses, but they are certainly not infallible. While there may be reason to be depressed about America these days, there is much that is exceptional in the productive and innovative research departments of global American companies. – A space mission employs a radar spacecraft to measure the depth of ice in the Arctic and finds winter Arctic ice volume to have halved in the last 30 years. – Four imperfections in our financial behavior that spell trouble for markets this Autumn: the value of banks’ derivatives positions, the debt ceiling issue, epic inequality, and the Fed continues to subsidize banks. — It is time that we thought carefully about changing our business as usual social/economic approach in light of the serious global challenges we face.

Highlight

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In Obama Reframes Syria: Metaphor and War Revisited and Systemic Causation and Syria: Obama’s Framing Problem, George Lakoff (for Huffington Post and Nation of Change respectively) argues that while metaphors are used as tools for communicating policy, they also influence behavior through systemic causation. Lakoff discusses these these metaphors in turn, looking at their meanings and repercussions. He considers how they relate to systems of relaying morality such as the Strict Father approach (i.e. US knows best and is morally obliged to punish) and the Nurturant Parent approach (i.e. employing empathy and communication), how these relate to our use of metaphor, and how when the nurturing approach doesn’t work it may lead to the use of the Strict Father method. But the Strict Father method requires a rational responder, and there is no guaranty it will work in the case of Assad and his generals. These metaphors represent far more than just communicative tools, they reflect embedded intention and can potentially systemically influence behavior and it is important that we carefully consider their use. This is particularly the case because the failure of many people to exercise their ability to consider systemic causation, and the failure of the Obama administration to lay a groundwork of understanding, means that Obama’s red-line policy will not be understood as having the intention to apply not only direct causation but also systemic causation – the worldwide prevention of the proliferation of poison gas and nuclear weapons.

Economic

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In The Entrepreneurial State, Schumpeter (at The Economist) reviews a new book that discusses that governments have an important role to play in creating innovative businesses. Mariana Mazzucato of Sussex University argues that in considering the success of companies like Apple, we must remember that much of the technology that Apple has used was developed through government-run public-sponsored programs. The well-run government therefore has much to offer the development of growth in productive markets.  However, Schumpeter warns, we also must not forget that governments can squander resources on bad projects and don’t necessary always have mid to long term interests in mind.  It is important that government is careful with expenditure, if it is not it will not have the resources to play the positive role it can potentially play.

In When Complexity is Free, Thomas L. Friedman (for The New York Times) discusses that while there may be reason to be depressed about America these days, there is much that is exceptional in the research departments of global American companies. Productive technology is surging along massively decreasing the feedback loop from design to creation to design. A similar surge is happening in innovative technology in which new methods such as contests are being used to increase the efficiency of machinery through sensor technology.

Environmental 

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In ESA’s Cryosat Mission Observes Continuing Arctic Winter Ice Decline, Jonathan Amos (for BBC News) discusses the findings of the Cryosat mission which employs a radar spacecraft to measure the depth of ice in the Arctic.  The volume of winter Arctic ice last year was just under 15,000 cu km, whereas thirty years ago it was perhaps 30,000 cu km. This volume assessment is thought to be the most reliable assessment of the changes currently taking place in the arctic.

Political

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In The White House, the Fed, the Debt, the Inequality and Larry, Naomi Prins (for Nation of Change) discusses four imperfections in our financial behavior that spell trouble for markets this Autumn. The value of banks’ derivatives positions has increased to $232 trillion, with the holdings of individual banks equalling many times their total assets. The debt ceiling issue will come up again (since 2001 it has risen from $5.95 trillion to $16.394 trillion) but will go away again.  The issue of epic inequality and the excess capital of the wealthy will grow along with the wealth of the top 10% of earners; the economy recovery has benefitted only the banks and their wealthy clients. The Fed continues to subsidize banks through agreeing to buy $85 billion of mortgage securities from those banks, an action that has artificially increased the prices of those securities. Finally, the potentiality of Larry Summers as Fed Chairman raises the question of whether continuity is really the best basis for choosing a Fed Chairman.

Social

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In Beyond Homo Economicus, Tania Singer (for Nation of Change) discusses that in light of the serious global challenges we face it is time that we thought carefully about changing our business as usual social/economic approach. While the pursuit of self interest may have its benefits in certain contexts, the current context requires we change our operational framework to take environmental and social governance factors further into account. This is both necessary and possible, Singer argues, neuroscientists increasingly are learning of the plasticity of the brain corresponding to data that shows how decision making can be changed through shifting environmental factors. We are capable of much more than we are accomplishing.