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Monthly Archives: May 2022

Chart: Investment Returns in the 1970s During Stagflation

Source : Deutsche Bank

Chart: When the Fed Wants to Slow Demand by Raising the Cost of Capital, No Market Is Immune

Source : Twitter

How Capitalism Drives Cancel Culture

Helen Lewis wrote . . . . . . . . .

Tumbrels are rattling through the streets of the internet. Over the past few years, online-led social movements have deposed gropers, exposed bullies—and, sometimes, ruined the lives of the innocent. Commentators warn of “mob justice,” while activists exult in their newfound power to change the world.

Both groups are right, and wrong. Because the best way to see the firings, outings, and online denunciations grouped together as “cancel culture” is not through a social lens, but an economic one.

Take the fall of the film producer Harvey Weinstein, which seems inevitable in hindsight—Everyone knew he was a sex pest! There were even jokes about it on 30 Rock! But it took The New York Times months of reporting to ready its first story for publishing; the newspaper was taking on someone with deep pockets and a history of intimidating critics into silence. Then the story went off like a hand grenade. Suddenly, the mood—and the economic incentives—shifted. People who had been afraid of Weinstein were instead afraid of being taken down alongside him.

The removal of Weinstein from his company, and his subsequent conviction for rape, is a good outcome. But the mechanism it revealed is more morally ambiguous: The court of public opinion was the only forum left after workplace protections and the judicial system had failed. The writer Jon Schwarz once described the “iron law of institutions,” under which people with seniority inside an institution care more about preserving their power within the institution than they do about the power of the institution as a whole. That self-preservation instinct also operates when private companies—institutions built on maximizing shareholder value, or other capitalist principles—struggle to acclimatize to life in a world where many consumers vocally support social-justice causes. Progressive values are now a powerful branding tool.

But that is, by and large, all they are. And that leads to what I call the “iron law of woke capitalism”: Brands will gravitate toward low-cost, high-noise signals as a substitute for genuine reform, to ensure their survival. (I’m not using the word woke here in a sneering, pejorative sense, but to highlight that the original definition of wokeness is incompatible with capitalism. Also, I’m not taking credit for the coinage: The writer Ross Douthat got there first.) In fact, let’s go further: Those with power inside institutions love splashy progressive gestures—solemn, monochrome social-media posts deploring racism; appointing their first woman to the board; firing low-level employees who attract online fury—because they help preserve their power. Those at the top—who are disproportionately white, male, wealthy, and highly educated—are not being asked to give up anything themselves.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the random firings of individuals, some of whose infractions are minor, and some of whom are entirely innocent of any bad behavior. In the first group goes the graphic designer Sue Schafer, outed by The Washington Post for attending a party in ironic blackface—a tone-deaf attempt to mock Megyn Kelly for not seeing what was wrong with blackface. Schafer, a private individual, was confronted at the party over the costume, went home in tears, and apologized to the hosts the next day. When the Post ran a story naming her, she was fired. New York magazine found numerous Post reporters unwilling to defend the decision to run the story—and plenty of unease that the article seemed more interested in exonerating the Post than fighting racism. Even less understandable is the case of Niel Golightly, the communications chief at the aircraft company Boeing, who stepped down over a 33-year-old article arguing that women should not serve in the military. When Barack Obama, a notably progressive president, only changed his mind on gay marriage in the 2010s, how many Americans’ views from 1987 would hold up to scrutiny by today’s standards?

This mechanism is not, as it is sometimes presented, a long-overdue settling of scores by underrepresented voices. It is a reflexive jerk of the knee by the powerful, a demonstration of institutions’ unwillingness to tolerate any controversy, whether those complaining are liberal or conservative. Another case where the punishment does not fit the offense is that of the police detective Florissa Fuentes, who reposted a picture from her niece taken at a Black Lives Matter protest. One of those pictured held a sign reading who do we call when the murderer wear the badge. Another sign, according to the Times, “implied that people should shoot back at the police.” Fuentes, a 30-year-old single mother of three children, deleted the post and apologized, but was fired nonetheless.

In the second group, the blameless, lies Emmanuel Cafferty, a truck driver who appears to have been tricked into making an “okay” symbol by a driver he cut off at a traffic light. The inevitable viral video claimed that this was a deliberate use of the symbol as a white-power gesture, and he was promptly fired. Cafferty is a working-class man in his 40s from San Diego. The loss of his job hit him hard enough that he saw a counselor. “A man can learn from making a mistake,” he told my colleague Yascha Mounk. “But what am I supposed to learn from this? It’s like I was struck by lightning.”

The phrase is haunting—not being racist is not going to save you if the lightning strikes. Nor is the fact that your comments lie decades in the past, or that they have been misinterpreted by bad-faith actors, or that you didn’t make them. The ground—your life—is scorched just the same.

It is strange that “cancel culture” has become a project of the left, which spent the 20th century fighting against capricious firings of “troublesome” employees. A lack of due process does not become a moral good just because you sometimes agree with its targets. We all, I hope, want to see sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination decrease. But we should be aware of the economic incentives here, particularly given the speed of social media, which can send a video viral, and see onlookers demand a response, before the basic facts have been established. Afraid of the reputational damage that can be incurred in minutes, companies are behaving in ways that range from thoughtless and uncaring to sadistic. For Cafferty’s employer, what’s one random truck driver versus the PR bump of being able to cut off a bad news cycle by saying you’ve fired your “white-supremacist employee”?

Let’s look at another example of how woke capitalism operates. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and the protests that followed, White Fragility, a 2018 book by Robin DiAngelo, returned to the top of The New York Times’ paperback-nonfiction chart. The author is white, and her book is for white people, encouraging them to think about what it’s like to be white. So the American book-buying public’s single biggest response to the Black Lives Matter movement was … to buy a book about whiteness written by a white person.

This is worse than mere navel-gazing; it’s synthetic activism. It risks making readers feel full of piety and righteousness without having actually done anything. Buying a book on white fragility improves the lives of the most marginalized far less than, say, donating to a voting-rights charity or volunteering at a food bank. It’s pure hobbyism.

Why is DiAngelo’s book so popular? Again, look at economics. White Fragility is a staple of formal diversity training, in universities from London to Iowa, and at publications including Britain’s right-wing Telegraph newspaper, as well as The Atlantic. The client list on DiAngelo’s website includes giant corporations such as Amazon and Unilever; nonprofits such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Hollywood Writers Guild, and the YMCA; and institutions and governmental bodies such as Seattle Public Schools, the City of Oakland, and the Metropolitan Council of Minneapolis.

In the United States, diversity training is worth $8 billion a year, according to Iris Bohnet, a public-policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School. And yet, after studying programs in both the U.S. and post-conflict countries such as Rwanda, she concluded, “sadly enough, I did not find a single study that found that diversity training in fact leads to more diversity.” Part of the problem is that although those delivering them are undoubtedly well-meaning, the training programs are typically no more scientifically grounded than previous management-course favorites, such as Myers-Briggs personality classifications. “Implicit-bias tests” are controversial, and the claim that they can predict real-world behavior, never mind reduce bias, is shaky. A large-scale analysis of research in the sector found that “changes in implicit measures are possible, but those changes do not necessarily translate into changes in explicit measures or behavior.” Yet metrics-obsessed companies love these forms of training. When the British Labour leader, Keir Starmer, caused offense by referring to Black Lives Matter as a “moment” rather than a movement, he announced that he would undergo implicit-bias training. It is an approach that sees bias as a moral flaw among individuals, rather than a product of systems. It encourages personal repentance, rather than institutional reform.

Bohnet suggested other methods to increase diversity, such as removing ages and photographs from job applications, and reviewing the language used for advertisements. (Men are more likely to see themselves as “assertive,” she argued.) Here is another option for big companies: Put your money into paying all junior staff enough for them to live in the big city where the company is based, without needing help from their parents. That would increase the company’s diversity. Hell, get your staff to read White Fragility on their own time and give your office cleaners a pay raise.

This, however, would break the iron law of woke capitalism—better to have something you can point to and say “Aren’t we progressive?” than to think about the real problem. Diversity training offers the minimum possible disruption to your power structures: Don’t change the board; just get your existing employees to sit through a seminar.

If this is a moment for power structures to be challenged, and old orthodoxies to be overturned, then understanding the difference between economic radicalism and social radicalism is vital. This could also be described as the difference between identity and class. That is not to dismiss the former: Many groups face discrimination on both measures. Women might not be hired because “Math isn’t for girls” or because an employer doesn’t want to pay for maternity leave. An employer may not see the worth of a minority applicant, because they don’t speak the way the interviewer expects, or that applicant might be a second-generation immigrant whose parents can’t subsidize them through several years of earning less than a living wage.

All this I’ve learned from feminism, where the contrast between economic and social radicalism is very apparent. Equal pay is economically radical. Hiring a female or minority CEO for the first time is socially radical. Diversity training is socially radical, at best. Providing social-housing tenants with homes not covered in flammable cladding is economically radical. Changing the name of a building at a university is socially radical; improving on its 5 percent enrollment rate for Black students—perhaps by smashing up the crazy system of legacy admissions—would be economically radical.

In my book Difficult Women, I wrote that the only question I want to ask big companies who claim to be “empowering the female leaders of the future” is this one: Do you have on-site child care? You can have all the summits and power breakfasts you want, but unless you address the real problems holding working parents back, then it’s all window dressing.

Along with anti-racism and anti-sexism efforts, LGBTQ politics suffers a similar confusion between economic and social radicalism. The arrival of Pride month brings the annual argument about how it should be a “protest, not a parade.” The violence and victimization of the Stonewall-riot era risk being forgotten in today’s “branded holiday,” where big banks and clothing manufacturers fly the rainbow flag to boost their corporate image. In Britain and the U.S., these corporate sponsors want a depoliticized party—a generic celebration of love and acceptance—without tough questions about their views on particular domestic laws and policies, or their involvement in countries with poor records on LGBTQ rights. Some activists in Britain have tried to get Pride marches to stop allowing the arms company BAE to be a sponsor, given its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, an explicitly homophobic and sexist state. When Amazon sponsored last year’s PinkNews Awards, the former Doctor Who screenwriter Russell T. Davies used his lifetime-achievement-award acceptance speech to tell the retailer to “pay your fucking taxes.” That’s economic radicalism.

Activists regularly challenge criticisms of “cancel culture” by saying: “Come on, we’re just some people with Twitter accounts, up against governments and corporate behemoths.” But when you look at the economic incentives, almost always, the capitalist imperative is to yield to activist pressure. Just a bit. Enough to get them off your back. Companies caught in the scorching light of a social-media outcry are like politicians caught lying or cheating, who promise a “judge-led inquiry”: They want to do something, anything, to appear as if they are taking the problem seriously—until the spotlight moves on.

Some defenestrations are brilliant, and long overdue. Weinstein’s removal from a position of power was undoubtedly a good thing. But the firing of Emmanuel Cafferty was not. For activists, the danger lies in the cheap sugar rush of tokenistic cancellations. Real institutional change is hard; like politics, it is the “slow boring of hard boards.” Persuading a company to toss someone overboard for PR points risks a victory that is no victory at all. The pitchforks go down, but the corporate culture remains the same. The survivors sigh in relief. The institution goes on.

If you care about progressive causes, then woke capitalism is not your friend. It is actively impeding the cause, siphoning off energy, and deluding us into thinking that change is happening faster and deeper than it really is. When people talk about the “excesses of the left”—a phenomenon that blights the electoral prospects of progressive parties by alienating swing voters—in many cases they’re talking about the jumpy overreactions of corporations that aren’t left-wing at all.

Remember the iron law of woke institutions: For those looking to preserve their power, it makes sense to do the minimum amount of social radicalism necessary to survive … and no economic radicalism at all. The latter is where activists need to apply their pressure.

Source : The Atlantic

Chart: U.S. New Home Sales Plunge in Face of Surging Costs

Source : Statista

Infographic: 30 Years of Gun Manufacturing in America

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

DARPA Large Seaplane Liberty Lifter Aims to Revolutionize Heavy Air Lift

DARPA has launched the Liberty Lifter project to demonstrate a leap in operational logistics capabilities by designing, building, and flying a long-range, low-cost X-plane capable of seaborne strategic and tactical lift. The new vehicle concept seeks to expand upon existing cargo aircraft by proving revolutionary heavy air lift abilities from the sea.

The envisioned plane will combine fast and flexible strategic lift of very large, heavy loads with the ability to take off/land in water. Its structure will enable both highly controlled flight close to turbulent water surfaces and sustained flight at mid-altitudes. In addition, the plane will be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.

Although current sealift is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functional ports, and results in long transit times. Traditional airlift is much faster, but has limited ability to support maritime operations. Additionally, today, such aircraft suffer payload limitations or require long runways.

There is a history of attempting to develop aircraft created to fly with “wing-in-ground effect,” which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above ground or water. The most well-known examples are the Soviet “ekranoplans.” These vehicles were high speed and runway- independent, but were restricted to calm waters and had limited maneuverability.

“This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters,” said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations.”

To address the shortcomings of existing vehicles and operational concepts, the Liberty Lifter program focuses on addressing three main challenges.

Extended Maritime Operations: Emphasis will be placed on operating in turbulent sea states by creating high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce wave impact load during takeoff/landing, and innovative design solutions to absorb wave forces. In addition, the project will address risks of vehicle collision during high-speed operation in congested environments. Finally, the aim is for the vehicle to operate at sea for weeks at a time without land-based maintenance activities.

Full-Scale Affordable Production: Construction will prioritize low-cost, easy-to-fabricate designs over exquisite, low-weight concepts. Materials should be more affordable than those in traditional aircraft manufacturing and available to be purchased in large quantities.

Complex Flight and Sea Surface Controls: Advanced sensors and control schemes will be developed to avoid large waves and to handle aero/hydro-dynamic interactions during takeoff/landing.

Source : Darpa

Watch video at You Tube (1:14 minutes) . . . .

Charts: Typical U.S. Household Have to Spend 70% more on Gasoline This Year Over Last Year

Estimated US$4,800 in 2022, a $2,000 increase over last year

Hefty financial burden is piling up even more for the working poor in other countries

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Germany Harmonised Inflation Rate YoY Surged in May 2022

Consumer price inflation rate is the highest since the winter of 1973/1974

Source : Bloomberg and Trading Economics

In Pictures: Food of Twins Garden in Moscow, Russia

Fine Dining Russian Cuisine Highlighting Home-grown Vegetables

No.30 of The 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2021

The Pitfalls of the “Ming Dynasty” for Mr. Xi – The Storm Caused by the Collapse of Zero COVID-19

習近平氏に明王朝の落とし穴 ゼロコロナ破綻が招く嵐

秋田浩之 wrote . . . . . . . . .

China’s “Zero COVID” Policy is continuing. A lockdown was taken place in Shanghai, and houses, shops and subway stations were closed in various districts in Beijing. The Chinese government has also decided to strictly limit unnecessary and unurgent departures. The city blockade in Shanghai is set to be lifted in June, but there are no signs that the policy will stop.

There is growing voice among US and European hygienists that China’s approach could lead to a major outbreak of infection, rather than contain the new coronavirus.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros said on May 10th that China’s Zero-COVID policy is unsustainable. Control infection while coexisting with COVID to some extent like major countries is a better choice.

Of course, the Zero-COVID policy has its own merit. Compared to the United States, where the death toll has exceeded one million, the number of infected people and deaths in China is much smaller. It is worthy of praise for preventing the fragile medical system from collapsing and saving people’s lives.

However, since the highly infectious Omicron type appeared in the fall of 2021, it has become extremely difficult to contain the virus by force… Sticking to the Zero-COVID policy can have dire consequences.

Enemy threatening the Communist Party system

With very few infected people in the population, the proportion of people without immunity is also high. A British infectious disease expert said, China is virtually 19 years old, with no one infected with COVID. Extremely vulnerable to new variants. China should adopt transition to “live with COVID” while using US and European vaccines that are effective against mutants.

However, Xi Jinping, instead of revising the Zero-COVID policy, is willing to continue.

On May 5, just before being criticized by the WHO, Mr. Xi said at the Party Political Bureau Standing Committee, “I have doubt and deny Japan’s epidemic prevention policy. As the consensus of the leadership, we also confirmed this. We have succeeded in a defense battle in Wuhan. We can definitely win in the bigger Shanghai.”

Xi’s sticking to Zero COVID isn’t just because of epidemics.The virus is an enemy that threatens the Communist Party system and believes that this “war” must be won.

Two years after the COVID spread from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China suppressed the infection by blocking the city. He argued that the Communist Party rule was superior to the democratic system, with the US and Europe struggling to respond. If I gave up on the containment of COVID now, I would have lost the political war with the West.

When Mr. Xi digs deeper into the true intention of sticking to the Zero COVID policy, he comes to a special view of history.

Learning from “Zero Pest”

Xi may refer to the Ming dynasty as a model for state governance. It is a dynasty established by the Han Chinese and lasted for about 300 years from 1368. Actually, just before the launch, Black death (plague) is rampant and was in the midst of causing great disaster in China.

Takashi Okamoto, Professor of Kyoto Prefectural University, who studies Chinese history, “Zero pest was a policy of the Ming Dynasty at that time. Building on that success, the Ming dynasty builds a huge controlled empire.” Okamoto analyzes that this historical fact also influences Xi’s style of governance.

“Ming dynasty deal with recession and infectious diseases at the time of inauguration using policies such as restricting movement and trade. Even if the infection subsided and the world economy started to move again, the Ming dynasty continued to have strong central control and adopted a policy close to isolation. Mr. Xi may be learning from that line.”

However, if the Zero-COVID policy is continued as it is, not only will the risk of an outbreak increase, but the stability of governance may be impaired. In late May, students at a university in Beijing were angry at strict behavioral restrictions and had a series of protests. The impact on the economy was also great. Production, retail and employment deteriorated across the board in April.

Policy mistakes fear swelling

In a democratic nation, people’s will works, and mistakes in the policies of the leadership are corrected by the change of government. However, the Communist Party cannot easily change the policy of its leaders. The aides who want to be praised by the top will inflate policy mistakes. This is another fear.

Chinese expert Shin Kawashima, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said, “Mr. Xi ruled out living with COVID and said Zero COVID, but in reality he didn’t even say that he should eradicate it to zero. Aides, government and party leaders are competing to eliminate them in various places. The policy decided by the top cannot be flexibly revised, which amplifies the contradiction. This is the disadvantages of a Communist Party system.”

If the Ming dynasty is the model, Mr. Xi should learn from that failure. Extremely strict central control helped to strengthen the emperor’s power, but of course it also produced a reaction. The opposition and dissatisfaction of the private sector, whose freedom was restricted, increased, and it became a magma that broke the foundation of the dynasty.

Professor Okamoto says, “The power line that Mr. Xi has continued for 10 years may increase the risk of causing similar confusion.” Even if the Xi administration wins the virus by the Zero-COVID policy, if excessive tightening ignites people’s anger and shakes the stability of society, it will be useless. The end of the Ming dynasty implies such a danger.

Source : Nihon Keizai Shimbun

Read more

Strategies for reopening in the forthcoming COVID-19 era in China by Wei-jie Guan and Nan-shan Zhong . . . . .