The Olive Garden: all-you-can eat for hedge fund raiders

You probably saw the hilarious critique of The Olive Garden that made the rounds last week; the hedge fund behind that critique is a major shareholder with a long history of shady financial deals that gut profitable businesses, destroy jobs, and line the pockets of short-term "investors."

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The Cobra Effect: law of unintended consequences, squared

In British-ruled, cobra-infested India, a bounty was offered for cobra-skins, so enterprising folks started breeding cobras, leading to the program's cancellation, whereupon all those farmed cobras were released into the wild, a net increase in cobra population. That's not the only example, either.

(Image: Cobra, Kamalnv/Wikipedia, CC-BY)

The Economist defends America's enslavement of Africans


When The Economist reviewed The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, its anonymous reviewer condemned it, sticking up for America's legacy of slavery as a means of wealth creation, saying "Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery; almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains -- this is not history; it is advocacy."

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Forecasting versus the stubbornly arbitrary world

In a fascinating long, thinky piece, economist Tim Harford looks at the history of business and political forecasting, trying to understand why both Keynes and his rival Irving Fisher both failed to forecast the Great Depression and were wiped out (and why Keynes managed to bounce back and die a millionaire, while Fisher died in poverty).

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Adversarial Compatibility: hidden escape hatch rescues us from imprisonment through our stuff


My latest Guardian column, Adapting gadgets to our needs is the secret pivot on which technology turns, explains the hidden economics of stuff, and how different rules can trap you in your own past, or give you a better future.

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Monopolists are perfectly impedence-matched with bureaucrats


It's really easy to understand the perspective of the companies that own the giant buildings down the street, especially when the other side is a bunch of weird new businesses that want to do stuff no one has done before.

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When all the jobs belong to robots, do we still need jobs?


Zeynep Tufekci's scathing response to the establishment consensus that tech will create new jobs to replace the ones we've automated away makes a lot of good points.

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Economist examines empirical evidence of file-sharing on box-office revenue

A paper from University of Kansas economist Koleman Strumpf (whose work we've featured here for years) empirically examines the impact of file-sharing on box-office revenues.

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Unions considered helpful (economically)


A paper in Industrial Relations A Journal of Economy and Society performs a meta-analysis of a wide range of studies the impact of trade unions on productivity and finds a complex puzzle.

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OECD predicts collapse of capitalism


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking -- has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They prescribe "flexible" workforces, austerity, and mass privatization.

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America's legacy of post-slavery racism and the case for reparations


Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Case for Reparations is an important, compelling history of the post-slavery debate over reparations, running alongside the post-slavery history of US governmental and private-sector violence and theft from the descendants of slaves in America. Coates's thesis -- compellingly argued -- is that any "achievement gap" or "wealth gap" in American blacks is best understood as an artifact of centuries of racial violence and criminal misappropriations of black people, particularly visited upon any black person who expressed ambition or attained any measure of economic success.

As Coates demonstrates, a series of deliberate government policies, continuing to this day, ensured that unscrupulous American businesses could raid the savings and loot the accumulated wealth of black people. From the millions who were terrorized into indentured servitude in the south to the millions who were victimized by redlining and had every penny they could earn stolen by real-estate scammers in the north, the case for reparations is not about merely making good on the centuries-old evil of slavery. It's about the criminal physical and economic violence against black people in living memory and continuing to today.

This is a long and important read, and the "reporter's notebook" sidebars cast further light on the subject from unexpected angles. Coates makes a compelling case that the racist violence against black people in America is of a different character than other class war and other racist oppression, and deserves unique consideration.

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Econobollocks: three ways that economic figures are misused in politics


Financial Times economist Tim Harford writes about how "three sensible propositions from economics have somehow been crumpled into a mess of public relations and politics" -- how the misleading precision of economic forecasts can be used to paper over purely political decisions, making them seem to be objectively true:

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How Hayek bred a race of elite monsters

Though he's been dead for more than 20 years, Friedrich Hayek is the darling of the free market, practically a saint. But as Bill Black explains, Hayek's predictions -- used to justify and glorify unlimited enrichment of the ruling class -- never came true, and the states that followed his prescriptions most closely ended up the barbaric situation that he warned about in re-distributive democracies.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, as the proportion of GDP that goes to "guard labor" in our militarized police forces and our bulging private prisons, as the most corrupt captains of industry grow richer while the rest of us are faced with an old age in poverty -- and a working life dominated by caring for our own sick and elderly relations -- it's worth reviewing Hayek's record, and the greedy, selfish, corrupt world it produced.

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Chimps beat humans at game theory

In Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions, a paper in Nature by Colin Camerer and colleagues, researchers document the astounding performance of chimpanzees in classic game-theory experiments -- a performance that's substantially superior to humans who play the same games:

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Piketty's inherited-wealth dystopia: private capital millionaires multiply


Thomas Piketty's much-discussed economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century prophesies a future where inherited wealth dominates the world, because the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth in the economy, meaning the money your ancestors earned will always outstrip what you could earn. A new Boston Consulting Group report confirms Piketty's hypothesis, concluding that the share of wealth due to capital increased by 14% last year

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