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Newsletter 2-4-2022

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. If you have the inclination, please pass this newsletter around to others who might enjoy the read. Now onto this week's edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) Housing (un)affordability constitutes one of the more troubling issues befuddling the global north at the moment. Things are most desperate in those cities where the financial services and tech have concentrated. There, property prices have flown ever higher due to the confluence of a high productivity/high wage workforce and supply constraints, the latter of which derives from planning regulation-induced limits on new housing construction. (Comparatively and historically speaking, places like New York and San Francisco are today extremely low in population density.)

The economic consequence of housing shortages in high growth urban areas are as diverse as they are profound. The unavailability of reasonable accommodation prices many job seekers out of the opportunity for pursuing higher wage work in the big commercial hubs. It limits cities' expansions and in so doing, deprives them of key scale effects: worker productivity is estimated to rise by 2% for every doubling of a city's size. It compresses the rate and volume of knowledge transfers. And, in driving the value of a given m2 skyward, restrictions upon the construction of vertical, multiperson/multifamily units in particular allows a growing share of workers' earnings to be captured by the rentiers who own the land. Bowman, Myers and Southwood, authors of the study linked to above, argue that housing shortages (and the sprawl that results) also relate to rising obesity rates, declining birth rates, intensifying regional inequality and increased carbon emissions.

(2) REI, the erstwhile progressive hawker of outdoor equipment and apparel, is none too sweet on a unionization drive going on at one of its stores in Manhattan. CEO of the consumer cooperative Eric Artz recently sent an email to every REI worker in the country warning them of the union-as-interloper threatening to disrupt the familial relation hitherto prevailing amongst management and worker. In the email in question, he reminds his staff-cum-kid-brothers that "at REI, we anchor everything we do in the Co-Op Way." Alas, the gap between Artz' earnings of $2 million in 2020 and $15 per hour wage his Co-Op offers entry level employees suggest our lad may be telling a fib.

(3) Events are getting very, very scary at the Ukraine-Russia border. As Gilbert Achcar discerns, beneath all the bluster and pantomiming, the "rulers of the great powers are playing with fire":

Vladimir Putin may think that this is like moving one’s queen and rook on a chessboard in order to force the opponent to withdraw their pieces; Joe Biden may believe that it is a suitable opportunity for him to repolish his domestic and international image, very much faded since his embarrassing failure in staging the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan; and Boris Johnson may believe that his government’s pretentious bragging is a cheap way to divert attention from his domestic political problems. The fact remains, however, that events in such circumstances quickly acquire their own dynamics to the beat of the drums of war — dynamics that surpass the control of all individual actors and risk triggering an explosion that none of the players had originally intended.

As for who stands to benefit from the drift toward cataclysm, I'll note that the CEOs of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon seemed particularly sanguine on earnings'/investor calls this week.

(4) Lebanon's struggles can be difficult to fully process. Having suffered one of the world's three largest economic collapses since 1850--consequence of what the World Bank has described as a "deliberate depression" orchestrated by the country's leadership--more than 75% of the population has fallen into poverty, medicine and food have been made increasingly scarce, and private generators have become necessary to ensure regular access to electricity.

Given the depth and breadth of the country's pain, the enduring parochialism and opportunism evinced by the Maronite Catholic Church strikes as especially disappointing. As one of Lebanon's largest landowners and an administrator of a vast school network, the Church has had abundant opportunity to help those in need. Per Zeead Yaghi, it has chosen not to. Its Patriarch Bechara Boutros el-Rahi--close confidant of President and one-time war criminal Michael Aoun--has also brought glory to the Church's name through his decision to restore relations with the Assad regime and through his calling for the sidelining of the earnest and tireless state prosecutor charged with investigating the Beirut Port explosion.      

Mad Craic

(5) Dubai has debuted what it calls the world's fastest ambulance.

For the cool one-time price of $3.5 million, the HyperSport Responder comes equipped with diamond studded headlights, a gold-plated interior roof and a maximum speed of 400 km/hour. To my eye, it is a vehicle almost certainly incapable of transporting an injured person safely. At the same time, the whip does have the world's first "3D hologram holographic mid-air display."

(6) Facebook is losing net users for the first time in its history, and shed about 25% of its market cap between Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon (a loss equivalent to roughly $230 billion in nominal terms).

Apparently, investors were not impressed by Mark being a totes chill dude playing digital cards with his digital friends in the hashtag metaverse.

Great Craic

(7) Add Amnesty International to the list of the legacy human rights organizations compelled into classifying Israel as an apartheid regime.

Unlike Human Rights Watch, the organization also delineated some fairly specific policy recommendations to the Israeli and American states, calling on the latter to withhold all military aid and scheduled arms transfers and to block imports of goods made in unlawful settlements, amongst other things.

It is unlikely that the great awakening occurring amongst segments of the liberal intelligentsia will affect policy any time soon. Nevertheless, it signals a change in conditions, and changes in conditions inevitably open up the possibility for changes in opportunity.

(8) Below you can see a kingfisher just fully the f locked in. Spectacular.

Have a great weekend.


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.