Memia 2020.40: Make America Rake Again🥕// the polar opposite of "wealth tax"💸// HYPErloop➰// missing courgette robots🥒
Invest in minds🧠, not places🏙️
Hi and Kia ora,
Welcome to the *40th* Memia newsletter of 2020! A huge thank you to all readers who have stuck with me over the year as Memia continues to evolve from its raw beginnings - and also welcome to a record number of new readers in the last week, clearly starting to do one or two things right 😊.
The most clicked link in the last issue (~20% of openers) was the impressive video of the fireworks-display-replacing drone swarm.
Make America Rake Again🥕
Much of the world held their breath (and doom-scrolled through Twitter) for 5 days… but actually it looks like things turned out alright in the end. Phew, America.😥
The videos of people dancing in the street when the result was called were pure joy to watch (just don’t mention the pandemic)😷.
Just a few of the funniest moments recorded for posterity:
And a huge hat tip goes to the team at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia:
…you can even visit for a VR dance party:
…but in all seriousness
The four-year stress test for the US’s democratic institutions (…maybe consider revisiting that arcane electoral college voting system, eh…?) now appears to be on the home straight with palpable relief around much of the world.
(If only to finally have media oxygen to talk about something and someone else!)
And yes, the relief may not last:
“Make no mistake: The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming. And it won’t be easy to make the next Trumpist a one-term president.” - Zeynep Tufekci in The Atlantic
From a technological viewpoint, given its increasingly vital role in the whole election machinery, in August the US Postal Service applied for a patent for a blockchain-based voting system (unclear if this was used during this year’s election):
In democracies elsewhere:
For an alternative approach to the ultra-adversarial US style of politics, Taiwan has had significant success using the online civic engagement tool Polis to provide an online debating space for citizens - that politicians listen to and take into account when casting their votes:
If you gamify consensus, you expose points of unity that were previously hidden.
(For more of the story, I highly recommend Azeem Azhar’s recent podcast interview with Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang).
Given the blanket coverage of the US elections, you’d be forgiven if you missed that Myanmar also had a controversial election this week.
Meanwhile in New Zealand: Voter fraud in Bird of the Year competition.🦜🤭
The polar opposite of “wealth tax”💸
Speaking of AoNZ native birds, I am ever-so-slightly overawed by the frequency, quantity and quality of political-economic commentator Bernard Hickey’s new newsletter The Kākā. (Free to subscribe until Sept 2021, recommended daily read).
He’s particularly vocal about the perverse (…unintended…?) effects on the housing market of the Reserve Bank’s Covid-response QE programme…particularly given the government’s priority to fix housing shortages and reduce inequality:
Near-zero interest rates appear to have incentivised existing property owners to leverage into even more property, re-inflating the housing bubble while locking out those on low incomes even further. “Helicopter money” might be a better policy:
[Disclaimer: I’m a complete amateur at this monetary policy stuff, still rather dazed and confused that a Central Bank can just “magic up” NZ$100Bn in a few months.]
Currently the RBNZ’s remit is pretty much inflation targeting alone. Couldn’t the government broaden this mandate to some form of “inequality targeting” as well?
…If so, one technocratic idea to address the current housing bubble: variable central bank OCR lending rates…for example the Central Bank could lend to commercial banks as currently but at different interest rates depending on the purpose of the eventual loan book:
0% or negative for general non-property lending to businesses
2.5% (say) for “family home” mortgage lending
5% (say) for any other property mortgage lending
Could this have a similar net effect as a wealth tax?
In the same way as the RBNZ was considered an international innovator with its “Loan to Value Ratio” policy (I’m serious) is there a reason why they can’t introduce granular targeted monetary policy interventions like this? (…and even if this blurs the purist theoretical boundaries between “monetary” and “fiscal” policy… who really cares if it works?)
(Feel free to let me know why this couldn’t possibly work in the comments section below.)
OK, that’s far too much about the present - the future looks way more exciting…
➰Virgin Hyperloop successfully shot two people through a tube. (Can you believe that the HYPErloop was first mentioned by Musk way back in 2012!!)
The Batteries of the Future Are Weightless and Invisible: new structural battery research aims to build energy storage into the machines they power.
Levitating pod-cars (but how do they levitate?!) :
IoT satellite operator Swarm has a fleet of 24 satellites is in New Zealand awaiting a launch date in November with Rocket Lab, and has also installed a ground station in the south of Aotearoa with plans for a further site in the far North in the near future:
“New Zealand is an ideal test bed for Swarm applications such as agriculture and horticulture, apiculture, stock management, aquaculture and fisheries, forestry and mining - the diversity of land use and purposes in a relatively large geography is a good representation for other global regions.” - John McDermott, IoT Auckland
🚰Self-watering soil: Super Moisture Absorbent Gels (SMAG)-soil promises more crops in arid regions: a single gram of the soil can pull in around 3 to 4 grams of water from humid night time air, releasing the water to the plants' roots during the day.
🥒Speaking of agriculture: *if only* New Zealand growers had spent the last 10+ years investing in robotics instead of importing cheap labour: Fields of courgettes go to waste because grower can’t get workers.
Princeton University economic historian Harold James interviewed by Eryn Brown in Knowable Magazine:
“The Covid crisis is coming at an odd moment when there’s an enormous amount of technological change afoot … and some of it actually increases globalization. It’s really a radical shift in what globalization is about.” - Harold James
A few notable shout outs around Aotearoa this week:
David Clark is the new “Minister for Tech” (=“Digital Economy”). Paul Brislen has some very sensible thoughts:
“If we can't vote in tech-capable people or train up those that are in power, let's at least give them the best advice we can and make sure New Zealand is well placed for the future.”
New report from the Auckland University Koi Tū Centre for Informed Futures: New Zealand’s economic future: COVID-19 as a catalyst for innovation recommends some policies to move Aotearoa (read: Auckland) towards a more knowledge-based economy.
Personally I disagree fundamentally with the recommendations about “Knowledge Agglomerations” and “Making Auckland a Globally Competitive Hub For Innovation”… which seems to focus largely on physical colocation of researchers incentivised by (guess what?) lower house prices.🤔
The report doesn’t mention remote work once: (again…) the biggest opportunity I see from Covid19 is that the worldwide knowledge economy has gone fully virtual this year. The very concept of a geographically-based “knowledge hub” is outdated thinking after Covid, I just don’t think the world is going back there.
New Zealand innovation is more internationally connected than it ever has been: Invest in minds🧠, not places🏙️
Following my notes last week on being “Fact Checked”, Memia subscriber Matt Boyd reminded me of the article he wrote on the topic 2 years ago : ‘Healthy News’ labelling – a discussion at Ben Reid’s request - lots of ideas in there still to be implemented by the social media giants…plenty of discussion still to go, methinks!)
Hard finding anything that’s not election related around the internet this week!
Tiger, tiger (beautiful):
Voyager 2 LIVES! (Anyone still alive who can debug FORTRAN?)
🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s always great to hear from you. And if you enjoy the newsletter, please:
More next week…
Cheers / Ngā mihi