The English colonial legacy bequeathed a serious tea habit to Kenya. A super-sweet brew boiled up in milk rather than water, tea is the drink of choice at home and in government offices. As the world’s leading black tea exporter, Kenya brings in about $1bn a year from its production, which totalled 450,000 tonnes last year, nearly 10 times as much as coffee production. But the up-and-coming consumer is plumping for coffee, across the city and into its fringes. ... Suleiman says he goes for coffee because “big men” drink it. Mahiti concurs: “We’ve always had tea, but coffee is something that wasn’t there before: it’s like a sign of success when you drink coffee.” ... “If you want to be identified as someone who’s on an upward track, where better to do that than in a public space where you’re spending only a buck and a half to have a cup of coffee and say ‘I’ve made it, I’ve arrived,’” says Ashley, who explains the company deliberately never hurries customers from tables, even if they nurse their cup for hours to eke out time and free WiFi. “It’s a very inexpensive way to demonstrate your rise up in society.”
These kids might never read a map or stop at a gas station to ask directions, nor have they ever seen their parents do so. They will never need to remember anyone's phone number. Their late-night dorm-room arguments over whether Peyton or Eli Manning won more Super Bowl MVPs will never go unsettled for more than a few seconds. They may never have to buy a flashlight. Zac is one of the first teenagers in the history of teenagers whose adult personality will be shaped by which apps he uses, how frequently he texts, and whether he's on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat. Or whatever comes after Snapchat. Clicking like, clicking download, clicking buy, clicking send—each is an infinitesimal decision in the course of the modern American teenager's life. They do this, collectively, millions of times a minute. But together these tiny decisions make up an alarming percentage of their lives. This generation is the first for whom the freedom to express every impulse to the entire world is as easy as it used to be to open your mouth and talk to a friend. ... You hear two opinions from experts on the topic of what happens when kids are perpetually exposed to technology. One: Constant multitasking makes teens work harder, reduces their focus, and screws up their sleep. Two: Using technology as a youth helps students adapt to a changing world in a way that will benefit them when they eventually have to live and work in it. Either of these might be true. More likely, they both are.
Is cold fusion truly impossible, or is it just that no respectable scientist can risk their reputation working on it? ... cold fusion (or LENR, for ‘low-energy nuclear reaction’) is the controversial idea that nuclear reactions similar to those in the Sun could, under certain conditions, also occur close to room temperature. ... was popularised in 1989 by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, who claimed to have found evidence that such processes could take place in palladium loaded with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). A few other physicists, including the late Sergio Focardi at Bologna, claimed similar effects with nickel and ordinary hydrogen. But most were highly skeptical, and the field subsequently gained, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘a reputation as pathological science’. ... We know that huge amounts of energy are locked up in metastable nuclear configurations, trapped like water behind a dam. There’s no known way to get useful access to it at low temperatures. ... There are credible reports that a 1MW version of his device, producing many times the energy that it consumes, has been on trial in an industrial plant in North Carolina for months, with good results so far. And Rossi’s US backer and licensee, Tom Darden – who has a long track record of investment in pollution-reducing industries – has been increasingly willing to speak out in support of the LENR technology field. ... We should certainly be very cautious about such surprising claims, unless and until we amass a great deal of evidence. But this is not a good reason for ignoring such evidence in the first place, or refusing to contemplate the possibility that it might exist.
Judging from its modern incarnation in fiction, a new kind of apocalypse is upon us, one that is both more compelling and more terrifying. Today our fears are broader, deeper, woven more tightly into our daily lives, which makes it feel like the seeds of our destruction are all around us. We are more afraid, but less able to point to a single source for our fear. At the root is the realisation that we are part of something beyond our control. ... In the annals of eschatology, we are living in a golden age. The end of the world is on everyone’s mind. Why now? In the recent past we were arguably much closer to the end – just a few nuclear buttons had to be pushed. ... Humans have always been an organised species. We have always functioned as a group, as something larger than ourselves. But in the recent past, the scale of that organisation has grown so much, the pace of that growth is so fast, the connective tissue between us so dense, that there has been a shift of some kind. Namely, we have become so powerful that some scientists argue we have entered a new era, the Anthropocene, in which humans are a geological force. ... My life depends on technologies I don’t understand, signals I can’t see, systems I can’t perceive. I don’t understand how any of it works, how I could change it, or how it can last. Its feels like peering across some chasm, like I am part of something I cannot quite grasp, like there has been a phase shift from humans struggling to survive to humanity struggling to survive our success.
Tunisia has many advantages over other Arab states: no deep ethnic or sectarian divisions; no oil wealth that distorts the economy and draws foreign interference; a tradition of moderate Islam; widespread literacy; a small, apolitical army. ... Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. ... Salafis follow literalist interpretations of the Koran and maintain that all spheres of society must be ruled according to strict Sharia law (which, for example, promotes the removal of women from the public sphere). Those who support jihad make selective theological and legal arguments to justify violence against the perceived enemies of Islam. The targets do not change: the West, Jews, Shiites, the secular governments and security forces of Islamic countries, and Sunni Muslims who are deemed apostates. But the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. ... Part of the success of ISIS consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike. ... In Tunisia, leaving to wage jihad has become a social phenomenon. Recruitment spreads like a contagion through informal networks of friends and family members, and the country is small enough so that everyone knows of someone who has disappeared.
Out on the road, the “dirty kids” (Huck’s preferred coinage) charge their shit at any one of the many familiar chain joints for quality Wi-Fi squatting. The best of them, shockingly, is Burger King. Compared with McDonald’s, which gives you the evil eye as you milk the clock with free refills and two hours between dollar purchases (“I am ordering food,” says Huck, “just slowly and annoyingly”), BK is a bit more tolerant of vagrants, and it has better Wi-Fi. “I did a speed test with McDonald’s versus Burger King, and Burger King’s was seven times faster!” he says.
Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design. ... A distrust of machines that come to life goes back at least as far as tales of golems, and this uneasiness has remained persistent in contemporary culture. ... While doppelgängers, golems, living dolls, and automata are all ancient, the word “robot” is not even a century old. It was coined by the playwright Karl Capek in “R.U.R.,” short for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, in 1921. “R.U.R.,” which tells the story of a global robot-human war, also helped set the tone for the modern conception of robots. ... After Capek brought “robot” into the lexicon, it quickly became a metaphor for explaining how various technologies worked. By the late 1920s, just about any machine that replaced a human job with automation or remote control was referred to as a robot. Automatic cigarette dispensers were called “robot salesmen,” a sensor that could signal when a traffic light should change was a “robot traffic director,” or a “mechanical policeman,” a remote-operated distribution station was a “robot power plant,” the gyrocompass was a “robot navigator,” new autopilot technology was a “robot airplane pilot,” and an anti-aircraft weapon was a “robot gun.” ... Today, people talk about robots in similarly broad fashion. Just as “robot” was used as a metaphor to describe a vast array of automation in the material world, it’s now often used to describe—wrongly, many roboticists told me—various automated tasks in computing. ... a future that many people today simultaneously want and fear. Driverless cars could save millions of lives this century. But the economic havoc that robots could wreak on the workforce is a source of real anxiety. ... The rise of the robots seems to have reached a tipping point; they’ve broken out of engineering labs and novelty stores, and moved into homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses. Their upward trajectory seems unstoppable.
Plato, of course, was not clairvoyant. His analysis of how democracy can turn into tyranny is a complex one more keyed toward ancient societies than our own (and contains more wrinkles and eddies than I can summarize here). His disdain for democratic life was fueled in no small part by the fact that a democracy had executed his mentor, Socrates. And he would, I think, have been astonished at how American democracy has been able to thrive with unprecedented stability over the last couple of centuries even as it has brought more and more people into its embrace. It remains, in my view, a miracle of constitutional craftsmanship and cultural resilience. There is no place I would rather live. But it is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history. ... Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. ... Many contend, of course, that American democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by the vastly more unequal economy of the last quarter-century and the ability of the very rich to purchase political influence. This is Bernie Sanders’s core critique. But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultrarich has been mostly a dud. ... The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics. ... it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.
The religiously unaffiliated, called "nones," are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths. ... A lack of religious affiliation has profound effects on how people think about death, how they teach their kids, and even how they vote. ... There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture. ... But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)
Since we’re in the midst of election season, with promises of cures for our economic woes being thrown around, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to explore what can and can’t be achieved within the laws of economics. Those laws might not work 100% of the time the way physical laws do, but they generally tend to define the range of outcomes. It’s my goal here to point out how some of the things that central banks and governments try to do – and election candidates promise to do – fly in the face of those laws. ... Let’s start with central banks’ attempts to achieve monetary stimulus. When central banks want to help economies grow, they take actions such as reducing the interest rates they charge on loans to banks or, more recently, buying assets (“quantitative easing”). In theory, both of these will add to the funds in circulation and encourage economic activity. The lower rates are, and the more money there is in circulation, the more likely people and businesses will be to borrow, spend and invest. These things will make the economy more vibrant. ... But there’s a catch. Central bankers can’t create economic progress they can only stimulate activity temporarily. ... In the long term, these things are independent of the amount of money in circulation or the rate of interest. The level of economic activity is determined by the nation’s productiveness. ... Much of what central banks do consists of making things happen today that otherwise would happen sometime in the future. ... the truth is, this “tyranny of the majority” is an unhealthy development. First, society does better when able members have strong incentive to contribute. Second, upward aspiration and mobility will be constrained when taxes become confiscatory. Finally, taxpayers aren’t necessarily powerless in the face of rising tax rates.
Finance may be the most powerful weapon of war. It moves armadas, armies, and squadrons. It funds troops and artillery. It endows suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices. It pays for special forces and mercenaries. It underwrites cease-fires and purchases surrenders. Finance is the weapon that makes all other weapons of war possible. ... This Article is about the financial weapons of war, their growing importance in national affairs, and their wide-ranging effects on law, finance, and society. This Article offers an early, broad examination of the realities of modern financial warfare. This Article descriptively and normatively explores the new financial theater of war, analyzes the modern arsenal of financial weapons, highlights emerging legal and policy concerns, and proposes key recommendations for current and future financial warfare. ... While policymakers, analysts, and scholars have long been studying the respective, evolving fields of modern finance and modern warfare, there has been surprisingly little meaningful legal scholarship on the crosscutting realities of modern financial warfare. Drawing on a rich legal literature that spans the laws of war, finance, and cyberspace, this Article seeks to fill this understudied, underappreciated—yet critically important—legal intersection of war and finance. ... Part I provides a general layout of the modern financial theater of war. It describes the modern financial infrastructure as a globalized, high-tech, American-centric system. ... Part II highlights particular armaments of financial warfare. Rather than provide an exhaustive catalog of financial weapons, it offers a broad inventory of the financial weapons of war. It classifies the financial weapons of war as analog weapons and cyber weapons. ... Part III contends with new concerns. It asserts that the financial weapons of war present critical challenges for traditional laws and norms relating to financial hostilities, cyberattacks, and non-state actors. ... Part IV offers new pathways. It proposes three pragmatic policy recommendations that should be undertaken in the near term response to modern financial warfare while larger issues remain unresolved by global policymakers.
Cheese-rolling. Pole-vaulting. Wife-carrying. Figure skating. Cup-stacking. Bobsledding. Ferret-legging. Golf. Somewhere someone right now is endeavoring to become more proficient at every one of these activities. Half the sports on that list are imbued with the prestige and promise of an Olympic medal, but is there anything more intrinsically worthy about performing a triple salchow than there is about keeping an angry ferret inside your trousers for two minutes? ... The upcoming Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro will feature 306 different events in 42 sports, or so the official Rio2016.com site tells us. But how many of those sports, such as synchronized swimming or equestrian events, do you consider a sport?
Now that she has sold nearly six million copies of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 86 weeks and counting, she was taking the next logical step: a formal training program for her KonMari method, certifying her acolytes to bring the joy and weightlessness and upward-pointing trajectory of a clutter-free life to others. ... In order to be considered tidy, you must have completed the method outlined in Kondo’s book. It includes something called a “once-in-a-lifetime tidying marathon,” which means piling five categories of material possessions — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items, including photos, in that order — one at a time, surveying how much of each you have, seeing that it’s way too much and then holding each item to see if it sparks joy in your body. The ones that spark joy get to stay. The ones that don’t get a heartfelt and generous goodbye, via actual verbal communication, and are then sent on their way to their next life. ... One woman in my group who had finished her tidying, Susan, expressed genuine consternation that a bunch of women who wanted to become KonMari tidying consultants hadn’t even “completed tidying!”
For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long. ... I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. ... Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. ... the insanity was now banality ... e almost forget that ten years ago, there were no smartphones, and as recently as 2011, only a third of Americans owned one. Now nearly two-thirds do. That figure reaches 85 percent when you’re only counting young adults. And 46 percent of Americans told Pew surveyors last year a simple but remarkable thing: They could not live without one. ... By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact.
Instead the question is whether something basic has changed in the direction of China’s evolution, and whether the United States needs to reconsider its China policy. For the more than 40 years since the historic Nixon-Mao meetings of the early 1970s, that policy has been surprisingly stable. From one administration to the next, it has been built on these same elements: ever greater engagement with China; steady encouragement of its modernization and growth; forthright disagreement where the two countries’ economic interests or political values clash; and a calculation that Cold War–style hostility would be far more damaging than the difficult, imperfect partnership the two countries have maintained. ... The China of 2016 is much more controlled and repressive than the China of five years ago, or even 10. ... Dealing with China is inescapable. It is becoming more difficult, and might get harder still. ... the assumption was that year by year, the distance between practices in China and those in other developed countries would shrink, and China would become easier rather than harder to deal with.
Cuba has two economies now: the national Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off the top. The rigged exchange rate is an easy way to shake down foreigners without most noticing. It also enables the state to drain Cuban exiles. A million Cuban-Americans live in south Florida, and another half-million live elsewhere in the United States. They send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family members still on the island. The government gets its 13 percent instantaneously and most of the remaining 87 percent later because almost every place that someone can spend the money is owned by the state. ... A single restaurant meal in Havana costs an entire month’s salary. One night in a hotel costs five months’ salary. A middle-class tourist from abroad can easily spend more in one day than most Cubans make in a year.
Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort. ... In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. ... impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures ... How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. ... That night, I slept in a guest room appointed with a wet bar and handsome wood cabinets, but no video windows. It was eerily silent, and felt like sleeping in a well-furnished submarine.
- Also: The New Yorker - A Bigger Problem Than ISIS? > 15min
- Also: Edelman - An Implosion of Trust < 5min
- Also: The Atlantic - Is Middle America Due For a Huge Earthquake? 5-15min
- Repeat: The New Yorker - The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. 5-15min
Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety, rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didn’t always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory. ... the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of “evidence-based policy”, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.
To the uninitiated, the figures are nothing if not staggering: 155 million Americans play video games, more than the number who voted in November’s presidential election. And they play them a lot: According to a variety of recent studies, more than 40 percent of Americans play at least three hours a week, 34 million play on average 22 hours each week, 5 million hit 40 hours, and the average young American will now spend as many hours (roughly 10,000) playing by the time he or she turns 21 as that person spent in middle- and high-school classrooms combined. Which means that a niche activity confined a few decades ago to preadolescents and adolescents has become, increasingly, a cultural juggernaut for all races, genders, and ages. How had video games, over that time, ascended within American and world culture to a scale rivaling sports, film, and television? Like those other entertainments, video games offered an escape, of course. But what kind? ... Technology, through automation, had reduced the employment rate of these men by reducing demand for what Hurst referred to as “lower-skilled” labor. He proposed that by creating more vivid and engrossing gaming experiences, technology also increased the subjective value of leisure relative to labor. ... As with all sports, digital or analog, there are ground rules that determine success (rules that, unlike those in society, are clear to all). The purpose of a game, within it, unlike in society, is directly recognized and never discounted.
Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human. ... The ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Two decades ago DePaulo and her colleagues asked 147 adults to jot down for a week every instance they tried to mislead someone. The researchers found that the subjects lied on average one or two times a day. Most of these untruths were innocuous, intended to hide one’s inadequacies or to protect the feelings of others. Some lies were excuses—one subject blamed the failure to take out the garbage on not knowing where it needed to go. Yet other lies—such as a claim of being a diplomat’s son—were aimed at presenting a false image. ... That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us. Researchers speculate that lying as a behavior arose not long after the emergence of language. The ability to manipulate others without using physical force likely conferred an advantage in the competition for resources and mates, akin to the evolution of deceptive strategies in the animal kingdom, such as camouflage.
At root, this national obsession was mostly the work of a very eccentric politician: John Vasconcellos. Vasconcellos, who died in 2014, was a California state legislator for 38 years. In his obituary, the San Jose Mercury News described him as a “famously rumpled bear-of-a-man” who was “colorful, witty, brilliant, angry, intellectual and elegantly foul of mouth.” Most of all, though, he was a nonconformist — during one three-year stretch, he decided to just let his hair grow and grow and grow — and his nonconformity frequently took on a decidedly Californian hue. Vasconcellos was an idealist who was convinced that humans had untold, untapped greatness, but it was an idealism driven in part by a bevy of personal demons and a long-running battle to control his anger problems. He was quite public about his varied attempts at self-improvement, which ranged from obscure forms of therapy to the teachings of the New Age Esalen Institute in Big Sur. ... Somewhere along the way, Vasconcellos discovered what was by then a good-size body of psychological research on self-esteem. It showed that people with high versus low self-esteem reacted in different ways to various challenges and instances of adversity ... This was a career-defining find for Vasconcellos. The logic was simple: If low self-esteem is tied to so many maladaptive responses, to so many forms of underachievement and bad behavior, then surely raising kids’ (and other’s) self-esteem could bring with it untold benefits. Soon, Vasconcellos was lobbying Sacramento to launch a statewide self-esteem commission to study the public-policy implications of self-esteem. ... little published evidence supporting Vasconcellos’s ideas. In some areas, high self-esteem actually correlated with worse behavior — some criminals, it turns out, actually view themselves quite favorably.
In Cuba, where Wi-Fi is both slow and terrible, you will be an emissary from the future, a hint of the degeneracy to come. You’re a full-on mainlining internet junkie with the world’s uproar piped into your head 24/7, your emotional landscape terraformed and buffeted by whatever some narcissist just posted on Instagram or some windbag on Twitter. But like the “not even once” warnings around drugs like meth, you know that after the internet is in Cubans’ pockets, it’s over. Even backward, bitter-ender communist Cuba will become part of the vast data Borg ... The real irony is that if the internet does topple the government and bring democracy to this democracy-starved island, it’ll happen just as democracy itself is being undone by Facebook and every other filter-bubble-creating, political-polarization-amplifying, algorithm-optimized feed. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and also oversimplifying, because the Cubans—the very resourceful Cubans—haven’t exactly been sitting around sipping mojitos as the digital revolución passed them by. They have workarounds. Oh, do they have workarounds. ... the first workaround. Every week, more than a terabyte of data is packaged into external hard drives known as el paquete semanal (“the weekly package”). It is the internet distilled down to its purest, most consumable, and least interactive form: its content.
The principal sources of inequality have changed over time. Whereas feudal lords exploited downtrodden peasants by force and fiat, the entrepreneurs of early modern Europe relied on capital investment and market exchange to reap profits from commerce and finance. Yet overall outcomes remained the same: from Pharaonic Egypt to the Industrial Revolution, both state power and economic development generally served to widen the gap between rich and poor: both archaic forms of predation and coercion and modern market economies yielded unequal gains. ... Does this mean that history has always moved in the same direction, that inequality has been going up continuously since the dawn of civilisation? A cursory look around us makes it clear that this cannot possibly be true, otherwise there would be no broad middle class or thriving consumer culture, and everything worth having might now be owned by a handful of trillionaires. ... From time to time, it turns out, history has pushed a reset button, driving down inequality in marked, if only temporary fashion. ... every time the gap between rich and poor shrank substantially, it did so because of traumatic, often extremely violent shocks to the established order.