Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Give us all a pill – making people more sensitive to inequality

  • Altering brain chemistry makes us more sensitive to inequality = What if there were a pill that made you more compassionate and more likely to give spare change to someone less fortunate? UC Berkeley scientists have taken a big step in that direction. A new study by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers finds that giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.
  • An exceptional autumn hot spell in northern and central Australia – Many records were set during this hot spell. The Northern Territory and Queensland had their hottest March days on record in area-averaged terms, whilst the event also included the highest temperature ever observed in Australia in the second half of March.
  • Why Greek default looms
  • The new authoritarianism – In recent decades, new forms of dictatorship based on manipulating information rather than on mass violence, have emerged. This column explores the trade-offs and techniques of the modern dictator. Such dictators can survive using little violence in the face of moderate economic underperformance. Economic downturns often prompt an increase in censorship and propaganda. Though new information-based dictatorships are better adapted to a modernised society, modernisation and access to information, as well as economic contractions could undermine them.
  • Thomas Piketty: Student Loan Debt Is the Enemy of Meritocracy in the US - Higher and more equitable growth in the United States requires more public support for higher education, argues economist and best-selling author Thomas Piketty. Changes are necessary for the stark reality of higher education to match the purported American values of meritocracy, hard work, and equal opportunity/mobility. If we really want to promote these things, says Piketty, we need to do something about student debt.
  • We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt – The … United States government … has a portfolio of roughly $1 trillion in student loans, many of which appear to be troubled. The Education Department, which oversees the portfolio, is … neither analyzing the portfolio adequately nor allowing other agencies to do so.
    These loans are no trivial matter… Student loans are now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the United States, surpassed only by home mortgages. In a major reversal, they now constitute a larger portion of household debt than credit cards or car loans. … The frightening reality, however, is that we are remarkably ignorant about student debt…, we can’t quantify the risks that student debt places on individual households and the economy as a whole. …
  • Controlling the past – In his novel 1984 George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” We are not quite in this Orwellian world yet, which means attempts to rewrite history can at least be contested. A few days ago the UK Prime Minister in Brussels said this. “When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat, we had similar sized budget deficits. The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people. I am determined we do not go backwards.” In other words if only those lazy Greeks had taken the difficult decisions that the UK took, they too could be like the UK today. This is such as travesty of the truth, as well as a huge insult to the Greek people, that it is difficult to know where to begin.
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