5 insightful op-eds or articles to help make sense of today’s world

Yao Yang, “China’s Real-Estate Wrongs”
(Project Syndicate, June 20, 2014)
Chinese property prices are one of today’s most prominent global risks, a caveat which The Monthly Barometer has been voicing for more than a year. This comes from the horse’s mouth! The economist at Peking University warns that the housing market may collapse, “bringing China’s economic prospects down with it”. This succinct piece exposes some of the reasons that underlie his conviction.

Chandran Nair, “Inequality and The Nature of Capital – A Reminder to Economists”
(YaleGlobal Online, June 17, 2014)
Chandran, the author of Consumptionomics, argues that Piketty neglects in his book the role of natural capital – as most economists do! This is due to the fact that (almost) all economic models thrive on what is essentially a “collective free ride on the back of natural capital.” Chandran worries that natural capital, including freshwater, clean air and rich soil, is underpriced and subject to massive overconsumption. He therefore recommends taxing access to natural capital.

Bill Gates, “Have You Hugged a Concrete Pillar Today?”
(Gates notes – the blog of Bill Gates, June 14, 2014)
Bill Gates is a fan of Vaclav Smil, a historian / polymath who’s just written: “Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization”. This is a book about materials – how much we use and how much we need, with many “mind-blowing facts”, as Gate asserts. One example: in the last three years, China used more cement than the US used in the entire 20th century… The blog post contains many graphs, charts and links that, in the words of Gates, give us a lot to think about.

Jill Lepore, “The Disruption Machine”
(The New Yorker, June 23, 2014)
This is an article that made the headlines this week, for sharply criticizing – with humor and erudition – what the author (a professor of history at Harvard) calls “the gospel of innovation”. She goes straight to the jugular of a star / heavyweight – Clayton Christensen – and asserts that his theory of “disruptive innovation” is founded on anxiety, fear, and shaky evidence. We’ll post Christensen’s response next week!

Neil McArthur, “Stone Age Sex”
(AEON, June 20, 2014)
A philosopher investigates sexual desire and wonders whether humans will ever be “liberated” from the basic biological needs that drove our evolutionary past. He does this by peering into the latest literature in evolutionary psychology. There is no obvious response!