Weekend Briefing No. 264
Welcome to the weekend. Here’s my March playlist for your enjoyment.
90 – New Orleans embraced a “housing first” approach and lowered its homeless rate by 90%.
20 – A New Zealand firm tired out a 4-day work week. The result was that staff were happier and 20% more productive.
2.5 – Free time correlates with happiness. Working people are happiest when they have 2.5 hours of time a day to themselves.
Concrete Climate Catastrophe
After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself. Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitize us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses. Taking in all stages of production, concrete is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2. We may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tons, surpassed only by China and the US. Concrete is also a thirsty behemoth, sucking up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use. This often strains supplies for drinking and irrigation, because 75% of this consumption is in drought and water-stressed regions. The Guardian (17 minutes)
Two weeks ago, the briefing featured a critique by Jason Hickle on Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates’) analysis that that poverty is decreasing globally. This week Pinker responded with some observations. 1) The massive fall of global extreme poverty is not a claim advanced by me, Bill Gates, or people who go to Davos, but every politically neutral observer who has looked at the data, including the United Nations. 2) The level at which one sets an arbitrary cutoff like “the poverty line” is irrelevant — the entire distribution has shifted, so the trend is the same wherever you set it. 3) Hickel’s picture of the past is a romantic fairy tale, devoid of citations or evidence, and flatly contradicted by historians. 4) The drastic decline in extreme poverty is corroborated by measures of well-being other than income that are correlated with prosperity, such as longevity, child mortality, maternal mortality, literacy, basic education, undernourishment, and consumption of goods like clothing, food, cell phones, even beer—all have improved. Why Evolution is True (9 minutes)
Village Capital is attempting to fix the frustrations and wasted time involved in the fundraising process. It’s new platform Abaca gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to assess their business from the lens of an investor, thereby better equipping them to approach the right kind of investor with a better understanding of their company’s strengths and weaknesses. Abaca charts growth milestones across eight categories investors care about most. It helps entrepreneurs know their company’s strengths and weaknesses, using the language investors use, makes funding conversations more productive. Abaca (5 minutes)
If you’re doing pure tech — a superfast chip or advanced systems software — Silicon Valley is still the place to be. But when it comes to everything else, New York is the place to be. The story of tech’s ascent in New York stretches back nearly two decades. It was a bumpy path, with progress both by design and serendipity. DoubleClick, a survivor of the dot-com crash and a digital advertising pioneer, and Google, which made an early bet on the city, played key roles. And the Bloomberg administration also made smart policy moves. New York’s advantage is its concentration of people in other industries working on problems that require technology to solve. New York Times (8 minutes)
40 years ago, China had just started opening up to the rest of the world. At first their exports were limited to commodity products and low value goods. Today the exports have shifted from commodities to mid-tech and high-tech products. China has squeezed out all other nations and is dominating the US import market-share in almost every category. Of course, this is a blessing for American consumers – increasing variety and decreasing cost of products, which in turn raises standards of living. Of course, this is a curse for American workers because it’s killed jobs and depressed wages. China has big ambitions with their “Made in China 2025” mission to move into ultra-high-tech goods like airplanes and computer chips, along with their massive investment in infrastructure called the “Belt and Road Initiative”. This series of interactive charts is a beautiful representation of China’s rise. Wall Street Journal (14 minutes)
Golden Handcuffs & Misery
The brightest minds of our generation are slowly dimming, languishing in jobs that lack any sense of purpose. I hear this from my former students and my peers all too often… “I feel like I’m wasting my life. When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized the incredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says.” There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it.” New York Times Magazine (13 minutes)
Feels are contagious. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis and his colleagues mapped out the face-to-face interactions of about 5,000 people living in one town over the course of 32 years. Their emotional ups and downs were documented with periodic surveys. "We were able to show that as one person became happy or sad, it rippled through the network," Christakis says. So, just how far does this go? A study of nearly 700,000 Facebook users suggests we can pick up on — and mirror — the emotions we encounter in our social media feeds too. As part of the study, users' news feeds were altered. Some people in the study began to see more positive posts, while others began to see more negative posts. NPR (6 minutes)
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For such is the nature of man, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men at a distance. -Thomas Hobbes