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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The biggest problem facing the global economy is not climate change, trade imbalances, financial regulation, or the eurozone. It is short-term thinking. An epidemic of myopia has swept over the world in the past few decades, and it threatens our living standards like nothing else. It's an epidemic with more than one cause, and not all of them are obviously sinister. Part of the problem is the growing complexity of the global economy. Life is simply getting harder to handle with the brainpower at our disposal. To understand why, imagine a chess master. She might be able to think her way through the game about eight moves in advance. Now add more squares to the board, and perhaps a few new pieces. How many moves in advance can she think? Not eight -- maybe not even five. Because of the growing interconnectedness of the global economy, our lives are becoming more complex in much the same way, with many more moving parts; we can no longer worry just about those closest to us. As a result, we can't plan for the long term as easily as we used to. Every corner of the global economy is like a chessboard with an infinite number of squares; there's simply too much uncertainty. Structural aspects of the global economy are magnifying the problem. For instance, the quarterly-earnings culture of financial markets -- the obsession with meeting analysts' expectations for corporate profits every three months, no matter what financial acrobatics that may imply -- owes its existence in part to arbitrary choices about how often companies have to report their results. Similarly, the money pumped into political campaigns has allowed them to lengthen considerably -- up to 22 months in the case of the 2008 U.S. election -- but legislative cycles have stayed much the same. With only two years between Congresses in the United States, for example, there's hardly time to focus on anything except reelection. Together with these challenges, there is one truly odious cause of short-term thinking: narcissism." (ForeignPolicy)


"In times of dislocation and discontent, we cleave to some remembered (or, more likely, imagined) past, some durable myths or a set of simple solutions that tide us over until reality has finished having its way. In the 1830s, the rise of popular democracy—a threat to the established political order—coincided with a comforting but divisive religious revivalism. The waves of Irish and German (and largely Catholic) immigration that preceded the Civil War sparked the vicious nativism of the aptly named Know-Nothing Party, bent on rollback to a previous age. The Populist Movement, at the turn of the 20th century, rejected the excesses of the Gilded Age’s 'Money Power' in favor of a return to the imagined virtues of the yeoman farmer and silver currency. The New Deal created not only the modern welfare state that saved capitalism but also the voices of intolerance and reaction that have been tearing at the safety net ever since. We’ve gotten away with this stance toward reality for two reasons. One is the comparative security and abundance that America has enjoyed for most of its history. Unlike the societies of ancient Greenland and Easter Island, destroyed by their own ignorance and shortsightedness, America has been able to absorb every misfortune and yet rumble on successfully after a painful reset. The second reason is historical memory—or, rather, the lack of it. The grim factory conditions of the 19th century? The traumatic migration from farm to city? The crippling legacy of Jim Crow? These events get a line in the history textbooks (except maybe in Texas), but the human consequences—the tens of millions of sundered families and squandered lives—have almost no place in our collective consciousness. We don’t remember them the way Russians remember in their psychic core some 27 million countrymen who died in World War II, or the way Armenians remember their massacre by the Turks. Americans pick up and move on, wiping the slate clean. In retrospect, as we tell ourselves the story, it’s all onward and upward—a very Whiggish view of history." (VanityFair)


"A much talked about event in the past two days has been the Brooke Astor estate auction at Sotheby’s. There was an exhibition of the sale items late last week. It was a hot ticket because everyone wanted to see what the lady had. Last Thursday night I went to dinner at La Grenouille with a group of friends, all of whom had just come from the opening of the exhibition. There was some surprise among the viewers, even disappointment that it wasn’t more spectacular — major furniture, paintings, etc. However, after seeing the catalogue, it looked appropriate for the woman and her time. Her belongings reflected a child of 19th century parents, wife of a 19th century American heir, and a lifetime spent in stylish and artistically conservative circles throughout the 20th century. She was a woman of taste whose choices reflected the elegance and refinement of the age into which she was born. Comfort and beauty were the reassuring qualities of her everyday living choices. The sale ended last night with an impressive total of $18.8 million and doubled its high estimate of $9.7 million. 95 percent of the 901-lot auction was sold. Buyers competed for paintings, drawings, Chinese works of art, furniture and decorative art from Mrs. Astor’s New York City and Westchester residences, as well as jewelry from her personal collection." (NYSocialDiary)

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