Encouraging Failure

You usually don’t want to fail. But we can be too careful. Risk-taking — even excessive risk-taking — may be the path to surprising discoveries and important breakthroughs, according to Astro Teller, Google’s self-described “Director of Moonshots."

Why Businesses Don't Hire

Businesses today do not want to hire workers if they can possibly avoid it, and for reasons not so hard to grasp.

The Beauty Quotient

Yet another way that life isn’t fair: “Two economists say…that investors assign higher share values to companies run by attractive chief executives.” The report in The New York Times went on to state: “These chiefs are paid more than less-appealing counterparts and that the better looking the C.E.O.’s, the better they are at undertaking financially successful deals.”

Fighting Bias

Neuroscience has convincingly demonstrated what many psychologists have always known: Bias is inevitable and ever-present. Now big business is coming to be aware of its high cost to productivity.

Schadenfreude and Envy

They are inevitable, normal, even, at time, useful – but does that make them good? Can we justify taking pleasure in the misfortune of another, or, as the German’s put it, “Schadenfreude?” Or can we keep ourselves from being envious of other’s good fortune? (See, “Our Pleasure in Others’ Misfortune.”)

Big Data, Bigger Data . . . Too Big

While we most of us were busy unwrapping presents on Christmas, The Wall Street Journal published an article on the NSA’s data collection. The point was not that it violated privacy – which is true – but that they were gathering far more than they could use. In short, it was also stupid.

Why Selfies?

Obama was caught taking a selfie at Mandela’s memorial service. Was he trying to show that, unlike the other world leaders there, he was just like the rest of us, an ordinary guy?

Mandela: Hero, Terrorist, Human Being

Reading about Nelson Mandela’s career, as we mourn his death, we might never know that he had been branded a “terrorist” by our government, joined the Communist party at one point, or had been vehemently opposed by American conservatives such as Dick Chaney, George Will and William Buckley who fought efforts to support his anti-Apartheid campaign.

Unconscious Suppression of Truth About Public Pensions

Municipal finances are a mess, as exemplified by Detroit’s filing for bankruptcy, while other cities teeter on the edge. It’s not a new problem, but we have never wanted to face it….

A Mongrel Species

Analysis of the genome of a young boy buried in eastern Siberia 24,000 years ago shows overlap with European but also American Indian DNA. That’s a new piece of the puzzle about the origins of native Americans, but it also supports the idea that mankind is inherently nomadic—and adaptable, and something of a mongrel species.

Where We Draw the Line on Money

Society has many strictures about money: we shouldn’t use it to bribe judges; we shouldn’t pay for sex or traffic in slaves. Those things are often actually done. But then there are the issues that really feel wrong, that are sacrilegious or taboo.

Edison's Team, The "Muckers"

We like to think of the inspired inventor working alone in his lab ….

Surprise: Consumers Can be Protected

The economists were surprised: legislation designed to curb the hidden fees banks charged their credit card customers actually worked….

Waiting for Equality. . .and Waiting

As portrayed in the media, the economy is a kind of uncontrollable beast. Pundits watch it expand and contract. They scrutinize its stirrings, take its pulse, check its circulation, and try to assess its health. So they note the lack of jobs, the growing disparity between the rich and poor. But they confirm our sense of helplessness…

Drones and Video Games

Piloting drones in Afghanistan while sitting in a dark room in Arizona can seem a lot like playing a video game. Looking at a screen, the operator focuses in on a target, stalks him, presses a button, and a missile hones in – and the “target” disappears in a cloud of smoke.

Degraded Jobs

At one time there was a reliable supply of undemanding, simple jobs — but that was before computers. As The New York Times noted recently: “The multi-trillionfold decline in the cost of computing since the 1970s has created enormous incentives for employers to substitute increasingly cheap and capable computers for expensive labor.”....

Child Abuse in the Shadows

Common sense tells us that during periods of economic hardship there will be more victims of child abuse. People will take out their pain and frustration on those more helpless than themselves. But, surprisingly, during the Great Recession, the number of reported incidents dropped. Can that be?

Less Than Meets the Eye on Wall Street

When the government fines banks hundreds of millions of dollars, it looks like it is getting really tough with them. But as Andrew Ross Sorkin pointed out recently in The New York Times, it’s a bark with no bite...

The Real Reason Our Schools Are Failing

According to current conventional wisdom, our educational system is a disaster. The truth, of course, is more complex. It’s the poor who are failing. The rich are thriving—and learning.

What We Can't Know About the Economy

Economics may no longer be the “dismal science,” the English historian Thomas Carlyle once said it was. So many students are drawn to it today and go on to enjoy lively and lucrative careers. Some can even become celebrities and earn Nobel Prizes along with considerable stature and respect. But how much of a science is it?

The Spectre of Class War

The campaign for Mayor of New York City pits a Republican defender of the retiring billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, against a severe critic who is calling for higher taxes on the rich. The media is calling it “class war,” while a new analysis of the income gap suggests that may be plausible.

Violence, Real and Imagined

It is no longer just a matter of opinion. Evidence has been accumulating that shows exposure to violence on TV and the movies increases the likelihood that people will act violently in life.

The Cost of Noise

Noise can damage the mind, even when we're asleep.

All Memories Are False

There has been a lot of excitement about neuro-scientists at M.I.T managing to plant a false memory in the brain of a mouse. The New York Times suggested that this provided “detailed clues to how such memories may form in human brains.”

Can Financial Ratings Be Objective?

The financial analysts who rank public offerings for the ratings agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, like to think they can be objective. Their reliability is what they sell, really, along with expertise in puzzling out balance sheets.

Two Economies or One?

What do we make of the news about jobs?

Identity in the Modern World: Conferred, Stolen, Changing

It stands for “First name unknown, Last name unknown” and is used for legal purposes when the real identity of an individual is unknown.

What Holds Us Together?

Long ago, when I was growing up in post WWII America, a “millionaire” was a very rich person. What could he possibly want that he couldn’t buy? But today . . . .

Out Sourcing Oversight

In an article on how financial derivatives have helped banks deceive the public, Floyd Norris in The New York Times indirectly made a good case for why we need leaks – and, of course, leakers....

Another Housing Bubble

Capitalism’s insatiable drive for returns remains a wild card at the center of our economic system, a source of economic instability. A case in point: the current recovery in the housing market may have less to do with the optimism of prospective home-owners about the slowly improving economy as with Wall Street’s demand for new investments.