Weekend Reads

For the profit and pleasure of subscribers, here's a few longer reads for the weekend on political, economic and social issues.

This excellent FT backgrounder from Gary Silverman on Donald Trump's business interests points out he faces a Trump University fraud trial 20 days after the election and faces 75 current lawsuits over various other matters. If he loses, his business may also be in trouble.

Trump, who has been bankrupted either four or six times depending on how you measure it, appears to have trashed his business brand in the process of running for President. "Residents of Trump-branded apartments in New York are circulating a petition seeking to strip his name from their homes," Silverman writes, adding his only hope is setting up his own-branded TV network. I also didn't know that Donald Trump sells a branded cologne called 'Success by Trump.' One for the Christmas list, perhaps.

George Magnus writes at Prospect Magazine about the awful public opinion at the moment around economists and economic experts, particularly central bankers.

He talks of the good/bad old days from before the Global Financial Crisis where economists didn't have to worry about financial markets and could preach cleanly about the benefits of open markets and trade.

"Governments existed to cut taxes, fine-tune cyclical changes and provide welfare and military protection. You couldn’t of course end up in a financial and economic crisis which didn’t self-correct. Now, in the UK, Europe, the US and elsewhere, all of this is toast. Economists are having to re-learn the mixed economy, the functionality of the state, and industrial policy. Globalisation is certainly on the back foot. While we economists can shout until the cows come home about the prosperity-enhancing properties of openness when it comes to trade, migration and investment, and how living standards will improve over time, large numbers of people aren’t listening."

Alec Luhn reports for the Guardian from the Russian city of Norilsk above the Arctic Circle about the surprising effects of climate change.

"Almost 60% of all buildings in Norilsk have been deformed as a result of climate change shrinking the permafrost zone," he writes in a fascinating piece that points out Vladimir Putin seems to share Donald Trump's scepticism about human-induced climate change.

For more on what drove Trump's political success, here's a New York Review of Books piece on a new book of in-depth reporting on Trump supporters by a sociologist.

"The more conservative you are, the worse off you are likely to be and the sooner you are likely to die. This holds even on the county level, Hochschild finds, after an analysis of EPA data shows a correlation between political views and exposure to pollution. Yet the very people most damaged by conservative policies are most likely to vote for them," Nathaniel Rich writes.

In a week when Lisa Owen exposed temporary worker recruitment firm Manpower for signing up beneficiaries to legally questionable contracts, it's worth a look at this review of Guy Standing's latest book on the 'Precariat' -- those workers in the 'gig economy' of freelancing and piecemeal work done via platforms such as Uber and Taskrabbit. This RNZ Insight programme on the rise of labour hire companies is also a good local look at the issue of contingent work.

"The precariat is, potentially, the democratic majority. In his new book "The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay", Standing says such workers are increasingly conscious of themselves as a class, in part because they see clearly what they’re not: rentiers. Rentiers get their income not from labour but from rent on assets that they own or control."

That looks to be a new way to frame the world's great debates: between the precariat (renters in contingent or temporary work) vs rentiers (landlords and other capital owners).

Katrina Forrester writes: "In an age of mounting private debt and stagnating wages – where 17 million Britons have less than £100 savings, and house prices in England and Wales are on average nine times local annual incomes – tax breaks on savings, charitable donations and firms’ debt repayments act as subsidies for the rentier class. The policies of the great recession, like the bank bailouts and quantitative easing, are likewise subsidies for the asset-rich."

Hard to disagree.

Last week China's Communist Party gave Xi Jingping the Mao-like title of 'core leader'. Chris Buckley writes at the New York Times about what this means. It underlines President's Xi's basic anxiety, Buckley writes.

"He enjoys mastery over the elite, but he has expressed frustration about a lack of control at the grass roots. That paradoxical combination explains why his power can appear both commanding and brittle, even after four years as national leader. And it is likely to magnify his drive for control, even if he enters a second term as president in 2017 surrounded by officials he has handpicked, several experts said."

Have a great weekend.