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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Helping China To Fight Global Warming

Obama’s proposed rules to clean up US coal-fired power plants are wise and affordable. But most new carbon emission happens in China. The next stage is for America to encourage China to cut back, which America can do in two main ways: First, transfer fracking technology to China, so China can use more domestic natural gas; second, tax carbon-intensive imports, to give China’s factories a hard nudge (890 words)

Russia Turns Elon Musk Into Tony Stark

One unintended consequence of the Ukraine crisis may be to help Elon Musk wrest control of the US space launch market from its current operators, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. To launch NASA’s rockets, the Boeing-Lockheed consortium relies on Russian engines — which Russia is threatening to withhold, and which Musk argues should be excluded by sanctions. Musk’s SpaceX stands ready to fill the gap (818 words)

Why Militaries Mess Up So Often

Military operations are especially mistake-prone because armies aren’t like other organisations. A normal bureaucracy has a job which it does all the time. Armies spend most of their time not engaged in their main job, which is fighting wars. The people who are good at running peacetime armies aren’t necessarily much good at fighting wars: In peace you ask for permission; in war you ask for forgiveness (580 words)

The Most Important Book Ever Is All Wrong

A sceptical view of Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital In The Twenty-First Century. The scholarship is impressive, the data is “second to none”, the style is accessible. But the conclusions drawn are tendentious at best, and sometimes downright perverse. Piketty clearly feels a personal horror at rising inequality, which skews his own judgement — and which delights his many like-minded readers and critics (1,280 words)

How To Reset The Climate Change Debate

Scare tactics about climate change have failed to move public opinion and weakened trust in government. Climate change is not “an inevitable cataclysm”, but nor is it a hoax. It is a “relatively straightforward but profound risk”, against which the world needs insurance. Governments should take “practical and economic steps” to “manage the risk”, and present these, like insurance, as a “sensible, even boring, necessity” (760 words)

Five Reasons To Fear The Debt Ceiling

“The global economy is facing a bizarre man-made threat. Radical legislators in the US, issuer of the world’s most trusted currency, think forcing the government to renege on its obligations would be a good way to shock it into recognising the error of its fiscally imprudent ways.” If Congress does refuse to pass a new spending law, the outcome could well be a US debt default, leading to a global crash (845 words)

Cancer’s Primeval Power

Cancer is older than humanity, and smarter too, in many ways. Earliest known instance killed a dinosaur 150 million years ago. When cancer strikes someone near to you, it’s an evil monster. But when you contemplate its resilience and ingenuity, it’s a marvel. “The tumor not only learns to evade the immune system, but it also turns it into an ally. The complexity of this all — the biological brilliance — is enthralling” (1,870 words)

Reinventing The Bookstore

People still want to browse, so monetise that. “Separate the discovery and atmospheric value from the book-warehousing function. Make them smaller, with the inventory limited to curated examination copies — one copy per title. Charge for memberships that entitle customers to hang out, browse the shelves, buy snacks and use the Wi-Fi. Give members an easy way to order books online” (927 words)

Let’s Make Banking Scary Again

Elizabeth Warren argues for splitting commercial and investment banks on the grounds that “Banking should be boring”. Actually, dealing in huge sums of money is always going to be pretty interesting. The problem is getting the incentives right. “Much of the fear that should be part of banking has been wrung out of the system. Instead of making banking boring, how about making it scary again — for bankers and their shareholders?” (650 words)

The Supreme Court’s Bad Science On Gene Patents

Bad science, but perhaps good law. The Court preserved some scope for patents in genetics, by making a false distinction between naturally-occurring DNA, which cannot be patented, and “complementary” (in effect, manipulated) DNA, which can. The result: “An ethically appealing judgment [that] left room for private enterprise to play its role. The baby has been split — or maybe spliced — in half. Let’s hope she survives, and that we do” (990 words)

Ayatollah Khamenei Is Iran’s Supreme Investor

A model for thinking about Iranian governance. Supreme Leader Khamenei operates like an investment manager — Warren Buffett, say. His “shareholders” are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and conservative politicians. Every so often, he chooses a leader or policy in which to invest their political capital. An error — such as the choice of Ahmadinejad — erodes his authority. Too many bad choices, and he loses his job (1,080 words)

British Exit From EU May Really Happen

We’re so used to the Brits grumbling and seething about the European Union in a low-level way, that we may be missing the seriousness of the current trend. The Conservative Party promises a referendum on Europe in 2017, the Labour Party will probably have to match the pledge, and the chances are, the voters will say “out”. Cameron would rather renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership, but other EU leaders aren’t interested (991 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)

The Best Way To Save Banking Is To Kill It

Enough pussy-footing around badly-behaved banks. Time for a radical remedy. “Rip all banks, large or small, in two — separate deposit-taking from credit-creation. Back the deposits one-for-one with reserves at the central bank. Then fund loans not with deposits or other money-like liabilities but by tapping investors who understand they’ve put their savings at risk” (833 words)

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