Weekend reads for August 6-7


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

One of the great themes of our age is the change in how we work, who we work for and whether it will give us enough money to live. One feature is the rise of the gig economy and there hasn't been much reporting yet on what that means for now in New Zealand. RNZ's The Wireless has taken a useful look at how people are using the gig economy here and what it means for them. It's well worth a read. There are pluses and minuses...

The big news in the world of science, technology and ethics this week was the first use of CRISPR to edit the genes in a human embryo. The MIT Technology Review reported it first.

This weekend Labour and the Government are expected to make big transport spending announcements for Auckland. The big debate is around road vs rail. Local transport campaigner Ben Ross writes in the Spinoff about a report showing that building a third main rail line for passenger services for just $65 million would help bring freight and cars off roads. So why didn't the Government want it? Ben has a view.

Another theme in the debate over the future of work and welfare is why it's so hard to employ many people who have been unemployed for a long time, have never worked or are on the margins of society. Drug testing is turning into quite an issue on that topic, with this New York Times piece explaining how big an effect it has had in the United States.

One thing I keep a wary eye on overseas is China's heavily indebted companies and the shadowy and apparently shaky piles of debt woven between these companies and state-run banks. The New York Times goes into some depth on the 'grey rhinos' (as opposed to black swans) that are proliferating inside the Chinese economy.

"The rhinos are a herd of Chinese tycoons who have used a combination of political connections and raw ambition to create sprawling global conglomerates. Companies like Anbang Insurance Group, Fosun International, HNA Group and Dalian Wanda Group have feasted on cheap debt provided by state banks, spending lavishly to build their empires," Keith Bradsher writes. By the way, HNA Group is buying New Zealand's biggest finance company, UDC, from ANZ.

How do certain interest groups influence public debate? Think tanks? Funding politicians? Media campaigns or just buying media? There is another way, which David Sessions writes about in The New Republic. It is to fund a thought leader to seed ideas into the political debate. He explains how the super-rich have funded a new class of intellectual. Sessions has a view:

"Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.”

Have a great weekend of reading.