A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: Economics Page 1 of 2

Don’t make ‘em like they used to

Sparks of a move to label products according to their expected life spans

It’s a situation many of us are familiar with. The milk turns sour, the yoghurt has curdled, and there are patches of water on the kitchen tiles. At fault in this tale is the refrigerator, which, barely three years old, has started to gurgle and appears to be reaching the end of its useful life. And like the DVD player, vacuum cleaner and coffee machine before it, the warranty has expired and the costs of repair far outweigh those of buying afresh. Yet according to a new survey, these failures might just be deliberate.

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Atlas Shrugged

Atlas ShruggedPerhaps the most significant book in post-war American literature, one which has regained popularity since the start of the economic crisis, Altas Shrugged is the embodiment of an ideal society, the ultimate vehicle for Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. Weighing in at over 1,000 pages of tightly-packed print, it’s also one of the longest novels in English literature. Is it any good?

Well, as a novel, Atlas Shrugged unfortunately falls flat, in ways that Rand’s first novel, We the Living, didn’t. There is foremost no humanity in the novel, the characters are dismembered, dessicated mouthpieces to Rand’s philosophical diatribes, with everyone fitting neatly into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps. Rand herself claimed that using characters as symbols was never her intention: “My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings.” But what we are left with are flimsy apparitions, lobotomised automatons fulfilling the roles required of them to extol the virtues of her philosophy. Even this is taken to extremes, with one of the proponents delivering a 60-page long theoretical speech around which the rest of the novel might well be seen as scaffolding.

To complement this set of lifeless characters is a plot which similarly confounds understanding. In an America which technologically resembles the period in which Rand was writing, yet industrially feels set in an earlier period, and borrows heavily from the Great Depression, the main events and the decisions of the characters jar heavily with what the reader knows and expects from society. As another reviewer pointed out, what’s missing is the overt understanding that the story takes place in a parallel world or a different timeframe, to create a genuine sense of credibility. True, there are some hints that push this novel into the realms of science fiction–a super metal alloy, power derived from static electricity, weapons based on sound waves etc.–but the world is definitely our own, even if the people and their decisions are alien. Key to the story is the gradual collapse of the economic system, and the disappearance of the champions of industry. What happens in Rand’s universe when the creative minds of the world go on strike? Apparently, they settle down on the frontier and, working one month a year, create a fully-fledged miniature utopia. Personally, I imagine they’d starve.

A bad book can still be a good delivery vehicle for an interesting message. Yet this unwieldy book fails even to achieve the latter. For its mammoth length, Rand’s message could have been relatively concise, but for the plot’s repetitiveness. If you are interested in Rand’s philosophy, there are plenty of other places to turn which will provide a far more succinct and detailed explanation, without the repetition or padding necessary for its delivery in novel form. Whether you find place for Rand’s philosophy in your own, or like Gore Vidal consider it “nearly perfect in its immorality”, there are simply better summaries available. For the converted, this is probably a wonderful book, but for anyone else it simply isn’t worth risking the investment of time and energy.

No one can deny this book’s enduring popularity. That alone gives rise to curiosity strong enough to keep it fresh in the public consciousness. But it is a far cry from a great piece of literature, and as an allegory, a philosophical harbinger, its ponderous and verbose nature should have the curious turn elsewhere. The novel opens with the question: “Who is John Galt?” A thousand pages of largely disappointing text will reveal the answer, but you’d be better served just reading the appendix.

Rauschgiftwirtschaft

Von Personalstelle zu unternehmerischer Gesellschaftsverantwortung: Verwaltungsstunden von den Drogenbaronen Mexikos

Übersetzt aus dem Englischen (Narconomics)

Juli 28. 2012 | The Economist

MEXIKO hat 11 Milliardäre, der Zeitschrift Forbes zufolge. Zehn werden oft bei Benefizdinners und anderen vornehmen Veranstaltungen lächelnd fotografiert. Der Elfte, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, hat ein ziemlich unähnliches Porträtfoto. Abgebildet in einem billigen Anorak sieht man ihn fröstelnd im Regen binnen der Betonmauer eines Hochsicherheitsgefängnises. Besser bekannt unter seinem Spitznamen El Chapo („der Kleine“) ist Herr Guzmán durch die vermutete $1 Milliarde, die er als Geschäftsführer des Sinaloa-Drogenkartells verdiente, ein von Lateinamerikas erfolgreichsten Exporteuren. Seitdem er 2001 versteckt in einem Wäschewagen aus dem Gefängnis ausbrach, gibt es wenige Fotos von El Chapo.

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Profit for Free

Pay for free

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Play for free

How do you turn a free product into a profitable enterprise? That’s normally the challenging issue to be faced in today’s increasingly competitive online market. Internet giant Google continues to have issues attempting to monetise its expensively acquired YouTube daughter. Yet game developer Turbine is looking to do exactly the opposite, converting their current business model into a subscription-supported free product. But does ‘free’ pay?

It certainly appears that Turbine’s decision to offer their MMO Dungeons & Dragons Online for free has paid off. Hundreds of thousands of new players have signed up to take advantage of the new offer, and despite the ‘free’ price tag, subscriptions are up 40%. In addition, many players are taking advantage of an in-game payment mechanism to buy additional items and open up new sections of the game. Previously the game had required players to pay a one off purchase price, followed by a monthly subscription fee. Now just about anyone can download the game and be playing within half an hour, paying or otherwise. Turbine also maintain that some players are paying even more per month than the previous subscription fee alone, removing an important cap on how much individual players could pay into the game. Rather than seeing players who play without paying as freeloaders, Turbine are confident that such players bring their own benefit to the company, generating interest, advertising via word-of-mouth, and thereby generating new subscriptions and one-off payments.

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Bucking the Trend

truman

Harry S Truman

President Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here”, a gift from an avid poker player. Yet whilst we might appreciate the imagery and the sentiment, should we really rely on there being a ‘buck‘ to pass? Is there always a man in charge, someone with whom the ultimate responsibility lies? The public at large like to believe so. Having someone who is nominally in charge provides a feeling that there is some level of control over daily events, that there is some direction to the madness that seems to govern our lives. It isn’t particularly important whether that person you believe in is God, the president, the Führer or Chuck Norris. Nor does that responsible person need to be an individual, it can just as easily be taken as being particular position, a group of people, or an organisation.

Yet having someone to look to as the ‘Man in Charge’ also entails having someone to blame when things go wrong. In general, people are not willing to look at events as the result of complex systems of uncountable interconnected threads. Such systems lack palpability, they invoke confusion and lack obvious conclusions. Much easier to view events as the result of simple inputs and outputs, revolving around the decision-making roles of important personages. When the proverbial hits the fan, the easiest response is to find those at the helm, whether particular individuals or a group, and lay the blame as thick and fast as the cement mixers can provide it. It’s a simple and effective reaction, since any person that can be held culpable must have made decisions, and any decision can be deemed retrospectively fallacious. Ergo any individual can be made and held responsible. 1We should not forget, of course, that as much as we enjoy seeing certain individuals as being responsible for the workings of the world, both for the comfort it gives us whilst things are ticking along smoothly, as well as the convenience of having someone to blame when they don’t, the individuals themselves also enjoy a level of revelry in the illusion that they are the ones with all the answers.

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1. We should not forget, of course, that as much as we enjoy seeing certain individuals as being responsible for the workings of the world, both for the comfort it gives us whilst things are ticking along smoothly, as well as the convenience of having someone to blame when they don’t, the individuals themselves also enjoy a level of revelry in the illusion that they are the ones with all the answers.

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