March 21, 2017

Peter R. Fisher - Undoing Extraordinary Monetary Policy (Speech) 12min

The challenge of normalizing policy will be to undo bad habits that have developed in how monetary policy is explained and understood. ... To re-establish a shared understanding, we will need to reassess both the imperatives that justified the extraordinary actions and the imperatives about monetary policy that were claimed. This will require candidly acknowledging the uncertainty associated with the transmission mechanism and the challenge of decision-making in conditions of uncertainty. ... It appears to me that the Fed and other central banks have avoided being candid about the uncertainty in order to maintain their credibility. I think this is backwards. Central banks cannot and will not regain their credibility unless they are candid about the uncertainty and how they confront that uncertainty.

The Economist - Here, There and Everywhere: Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own 30min

After decades of work in the laboratory, a raft of different devices and approaches relying on quantum-mechanical effects are now nearing market-readiness. It has taken so long mainly because the components that make them up had to be developed first: ever-better lasers, semiconductors, control electronics and techniques to achieve the low temperatures at which many quantum systems perform best. ... Everything in the natural world can be described by quantum mechanics. Born a century ago, this theory is the rule book for what happens at atomic scales, providing explanations for everything from the layout of the periodic table to the zoo of particles spraying out of atom-smashers. It has guided the development of everyday technologies from lasers to MRI machines and put a solid foundation under astrophysicists’ musings about unknowables such as the interiors of black holes and the dawn of the universe. Revealed by a few surprising discoveries, such as that atoms absorb and emit energy only in packets of discrete sizes (quanta), and that light and matter can act as both waves and particles, it is modern physics’ greatest triumph. ... It has a weird side, though, and it is this that has captured interest in what is now being called the second quantum revolution.

Bloomberg - Fury Road: Did Uber Steal the Driverless Future From Google? 12min

Self-driving technology has become a fixation for Kalanick. Developing a driverless car, he’s often said, is “existential” to Uber. If a competitor managed to get there first, it could easily replicate Uber’s core service (shuttling passengers) without its single largest cost (paying drivers). ... According to the legal complaint filed on behalf of Google’s driverless car division—as almost everyone at Waymo still refers to it—the company began investigating Levandowski last summer after learning that Uber had paid about $700 million for his months-old company. Google’s suit, filed in a San Francisco federal court, says its investigators uncovered a trove of digital evidence that hint at an unprecedented theft. According to the suit, Levandowski used his company laptop to download 14,000 design files from Google’s car project. ... At issue is a business that both companies believe will be worth hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars a year. And though both companies like to portray driverless cars as some near-term inevitability, this dispute shows just how messy the race to get there could prove to be.

Aeon - In praise of cash 9min

This first mode of money is public. We might call it ‘state money’. Indeed, we experience cash like a public utility that is ‘just there’. Like other public utilities, it might feel grungy and unsexy – with inefficiencies and avenues for corruption – but it is in principle open-access. It can be passed directly by the richest of society to the poorest of society, or vice versa. ... Alongside this, we have a separate system of digital fiat money, in which our money tokens take the form of ‘data objects’ recorded on a database by an authority – a bank – granted power to ‘keep score’ of them for us. ... This second mode of money is essentially private, running off an infrastructure collectively controlled by profit-seeking commercial banks and a host of private payment intermediaries – like Visa and Mastercard – that work with them. The data inscriptions in your bank account are not state money. Rather, your bank account records private promises issued to you by your bank, promising you access to state money should you wish. ... The cashless society – which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society – is often presented as an inevitability, an outcome of ‘natural progress’. This claim is either naïve or disingenuous. Any future cashless bank-payments society will be the outcome of a deliberate war on cash waged by an alliance of three elite groups with deep interests in seeing it emerge.

1843 Magazine - Art Market vs. Predator 12min

Many in the art world are worried about bubbles. The market, they say, is becoming too fast, and too short term. They have reason to fret. The price swings for these artists – rises and falls of 500% or more in less than two years – make this market more volatile than even the most turbulent financial ones. Mini-crashes are becoming more common. They risk doing both financial and creative damage to the art world – financial, because it could put off serious, long-term investors; creative, because artists burn out before they really get started. ... The blame for this is directed at a new breed of art dealer, known as “flippers”. In contrast to a traditional dealer, who may stay with an artist for a lifetime and keeps tight control over who buys his work, flippers buy low and sell high to anybody who will buy. They treat art as though it were a financial instrument. ... His plan is based on his second big influence, the notion of “creative destruction” set out in Joseph Schumpeter’s book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. ... Simchowitz dislikes the art-world hierarchy, which he thinks excludes people from buying art; he would like to dislodge it and make art easier to see and buy.

New York Magazine - ‘The Kids Think I’m a Shoe’ 10min

Nothing about Smith or the simple design of the sneaker itself — neither has changed much since 1971 — explains how Adidas was able to sell 7 million pairs by 1985. Or how that number had grown to 22 million pairs by 1988. Or why Footwear News named it the first-ever Shoe of the Year in 2014. Or how it surpassed 50 million shoes sold as of 2016. Or how the sneaker grew far beyond its start as a technical athletic shoe and became a fashion brand, its basic blank slate evolving and taking on new meaning and purpose. ... The sneakers weren’t even designed with Smith in mind. Adidas heir Horst Dassler made them in 1965 for the French tennis player Robert Haillet. ... It was the most technically advanced tennis sneaker of its time, one of the first made of leather in a field of canvas, with a herringbone bottom designed for use on clay courts.