The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

It Captures Your Mind

Another fine review of Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, which argues that poverty puts people “in a kind of cognitive tunnel, limiting what they are able to see. It depletes their self-control. It makes them more impulsive and sometimes a bit dumb.” What’s the answer? For Sunstein, unsurprisingly, it is nudges. “One possibility is to make certain outcomes automatic, so that people do not have to think about them at all” (3,580 words)

An Original Thinker Of Our Time

Review of Jeremy Adelman’s Worldly Philosopher, a biography of Albert Hirschman, “an anti-utopian reformer” best known for his economic writing, notably Exit, Voice and Loyalty. But what amazes here is the courage of his youth. He escaped Nazi Germany, fought for the Republicans in Spain, and ran an underground railroad for Jews fleeing Vichy France that rescued Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst (4,250 words)

Why Paternalism Is Your Friend

Should governments try to influence or alter people’s choices for their own good? No, if you assume that people have perfect information and perfect instincts. Yes, if you think they need a bit of help. “Here’s a simple but striking example of the possibility that paternalism can actually increase people’s welfare: cigarette taxes appear to make smokers happier. To the extent that this is so, it is because smokers tend to be less happy because they smoke. When they are taxed, they smoke less and might even quit, and they are better off as a result” (1,685 words)

For The Supreme Court, Silence Can Be Golden

Opinion. US Supreme Court may decline to settle the California dispute over same-sex marriage. It has dealt similarly with big social issues in the past: for example, when asked to rule on the constitutionality of contraception, in 1961. “Why does the court opt for silence? First, the justices might be genuinely uncertain about what the Constitution requires, and they might want to learn more before offering their conclusion … Second, the court might believe that judicial intervention will damage both democratic processes and the judiciary itself” (793 words)

It’s For Your Own Good

Mill’s harm principle holds that the state should only use power against an individual to prevent him from harming others — not from harming himself. Mill assumes that the individual is the best judge of his own interests. But behavioural science says otherwise: that individuals are bad judges of means, if not ends. Does this justify paternalism?

Krugman, Krauthammer And Their Implied Authors

On authorial personae. “Paul Krugman is a national treasure, but his implied author is arrogant and self-absorbed. Charles Krauthammer may be a great guy, but his implied author is struggling with a serious anger-management problem”

Show Me The Money

Corporations overwhelm consumers with complex fee structures, pages of fine print. It’s not quite fraud, but it’s close. Regulators must step in to enforce simplicity. Competition won’t do that when the market rewards opacity

The Hidden Stakes Of The Election

In lower courts across America, judges rule on many of the biggest battles of the day, with little public attention. Here’s what difference it makes whether those judges are Republican or Democratic appointees

How Social Dynamics Made You Successful

Do you know the name Sixto Rodriguez? He was an unsuccessful singer-songwriter from Detroit, who released two albums in the 1970s. He bombed. But, curiously, became huge in South Africa. Which is where social dynamics comes in

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