Thursday Links 21-Jun-2018: the rise of market Autocracies, Uighurs, Taubes comeuppance, Scootermania

I normally do my links post on Saturday, but was travelling. So here’s one for Thursday to catch up, and I’ll do another this coming Saturday.

1. One-state regimes are embracing markets but remain autocratic. Tyler Cowen called this “one of my more interesting columns as of late.” I agree. It’s excellent. He argues one of the most overlooked innovations in the past 30 years is the radical improvement in autocratic governance. Some of this is driven by technology, with easier monitoring of people through social media and the internet. But fundamentally this is a revolution in governance possibilities, discovering market economics and autocracy are a match made in heaven. As Cowen points out, and I’m old enough to have held this common view:

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a common view that if authoritarian or totalitarian regimes liberalized, it would bring an end to their rule. The collapse of Soviet and Eastern European communism over 1989-1992 seemed consistent with this prediction, as perestroika and relaxed travel restrictions caused those regimes to implode.

The big innovation in authoritarian governance has been this: subsequent autocratic leaders, most of all in China, have found ways of both liberalizing and staying in power. The good news is that people living under authoritarian governments have much, much better lives than before. The corresponding bad news is that autocracy works better than it used to and thus it is more popular and probably also more enduring. The notion that autocratic government would fade away, either in practice or as an ideological competitor to Western liberalism, simply isn’t tenable any more.

Another sentence:

At the end of the day the Party still does what it thinks is best, but it is no longer crazy to suggest that the Chinese government is, along many dimensions, more responsive to public opinion than is the U.S. Congress.

During the cold war in the US, Reagan Republicans believed in market economies and immigration. Democrats were market skeptics and pro-union (and worried immigration would hurt the working class). But both were cold war enemies of socialist economics and autocracy.

That era is long gone. Now Democrats are becoming a party of meritocracy and oppressed identities. And immigration! While Republicans are becoming nationalists for the white poor. Neither cares about markets and productivity. We are negligent of the wellspring of our success, one now lifting up the reborn autocracies. link

2. China continues to put muslim Uighurs in concentration camps and nobody cares. Ok. To be fair, people do care. Yet I can’t help but recall how this is exactly the kind of humanitarian crisis that would make headlines during the cold war. And nowadays, even when reported on, is rarely linked to. (insert get of my lawn joke here). That said, I want to do my part. So here are links and quotes.

Economist:

Timothy Grose, a professor at Rose-Hulman University in Indiana, puts the total between 500,000 and 1m, which would imply that something like a sixth to a third of young and middle-aged Uighur men are being detained, or have been at some point in the past year.

According to the 2010 census, Uighurs account for 46% of the province’s population and Han Chinese 40% (the rest are smaller minorities such as Kazakhs and Kirgiz). But they live apart and see the land in distinct ways. Uighurs regard Xinjiang as theirs because they have lived in it for thousands of years. The Han Chinese regard it as theirs because they have built a modern economy in its deserts and mountains. 

New York Times:

Xinjiang has become a police state to rival North Korea, with a formalized racism on the order of South African apartheid. There is every reason to fear that the situation will only worsen.

And Scott Alexander has a post on why we should single out this particular injustice as deplorable. His post ends:

This is my long-winded answer to a question several people asked on the last links post – why should we prioritize responding to China’s mass incarceration of the Uighurs? Aren’t there other equally bad things going on elsewhere in the world, like malaria?

Yes. But I had optimistically thought we had mostly established a strong norm around “don’t put minorities in concentration camps”. Resources devoted to enforcing that norm won’t just solve the immediate problem in China, they’ll also help maintain a credible taboo against this kind of thing so it’s less likely to happen the next time.

3. Gary Taubes has gotten his comeuppance. The journalist Gary Taubes has been an advocate of low carb diets, and a strong critic of shoddy nutritional science. Then in 2012 he got funded with $40M to do his own studies, and they didn’t work out very well. Taubes said they weren’t done the way they should have been. While his critics are glad he got his comeuppance. I’ve followed Taubes for years, and frankly am unsure about it, but am certainly less anti-carb than before. If this topic interests you, Wired has a good tick-tock on what went down. link

4. Netflix playbook for original programming. I liked Eugene Wei’s comment on this Netflix article: “Companies typically only share their playbook this publicly if they believe the competition is incapable or too dumb (or both) to replicate or learn from it.” Here’s the link, plus one bit:

Instead of grouping members by age or race or even what country they live in, Netflix has tracked viewing habits and identified almost 2,000 microclusters that each Netflix user falls into. While it’s not a direct parallel, taste communities are sort of like Netflix’s version of the demographic ratings used by traditional ad-supported networks, just more evolved. 

5. Scootermania finally gets to the US. Ben Thompson has one of the best posts: The Scooter Economy.  Here’s an obligatory scooter tweetstorm. And let me end today’s post with the tweet below. Which I think is exactly right. The correct answer is successful approaches in tech are always obvious, but only after the fact. Not before.

 

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