The Journal of Theory

A Digest for Hesitant Generalists

THEORY: I’ll make arctan out of u

My dear friend Jonah, a PhD candidate at the Brandeis Department of Mathematics, might be the most fun calculus teacher ever. Today, he wrote and sang a Mulan parody about the antiderivative of 1/(4+9x^2) for his calc students.

If ever there were a niche audience, it’s people who like calculus and post-1997 Disney, but you really can’t argue with lyrics like (spoiler alert) “resubstitute u to get the answer: one sixth arctan of three-halves x plus C”.

You can download and stream “I’ll make arctan out of u” here.

THEORY: Stop trying to make reshoring happen

Tim Leunig, an economic historian at LSE, argues in the Financial Times that reshoring from China is not going to happen, despite how much people wish it would.

I’d recommend reading the short piece, but if you really can’t make the effort, here’s a summary: low-cost Chinese labor will be elastic for a while yet, but even when China does run out of low-cost workers, producers will make for the subcontinent and Africa. And although relatively higher-wage jobs (think $5 per hour instead of $2, coastal) with electronics producers in China will still mean fairly reliable workers and low per-unit production costs, any reshoring of those jobs to the US will not be a 1:1 reshoring. Chinese productivity is still much lower than US productivity, meaning for every 8-12 jobs China loses to us, we would only gain one. Bummer!

THEORY: Mohamed ElBaradei has a snowy secret

Rather than acknowledge that TweetDeck can’t display Arabic text, I imagine Mohamed ElBaradei is using his Twitter account to send me secret messages about snowfall.

THEORY: With enough can-do attitude, Lesotho can do this thing!

Landlocked Lesotho plans to spend the next ten to 15 years developing the continent’s largest green energy project, worth USD 15b and financed up to 80 percent by Chinese loans. The Guardian:

The Lesotho highlands power project (LHPP) will generate 6,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power and 4,000MW of hydropower, equivalent to about 5% of neighbouring South Africa’s electricity needs.

Lesotho says the scheme will help end its plight as one of the world’s poorest countries, “making it a case study in how investing in renewable energy can transform a nation’s fortunes”.

Now imagining a “logframe” wherein the project spurs enough growth in Lesotho for the project to expand and for the energy produced to be gobbled up by both countries.

THEORY: Ghana fits into these lower middle income country shoes

Memo to my friends in the south: an aspiring entrepreneur in Accra is testing TakeAwayGh, an online restaurant delivery service. Zion Thai is listed.

via VC4Africa

THEORY: Subsidized creative writing classes will improve econoblog outputs

Now that Reader’s social features are gone and G+ remains nothing more than proof monolithic Google has lost its touch, this will have to become a real link blog. The Free Exchange blog at The Economist asked a bunch of economics bloggers to write haikus, and they did.

The goal is simple
Get Americans to say
“I, Entrepreneur”
Nick Schulz

The rag missed a great opportunity to ask these bloggers to wax poetic about anything but economics, if you ask me. (Where’s the petition asking Steve Waldman to explore his frustrations through experimental poetry?)

There are more haikus from the likes of Scott Sumner, Eli Dourado, Felix Salmon and others here.

THEORY: I don’t feel much like exploring without my friends

THEORY: Bank Road is longer than you think it is

Complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have completed a study on relationships (PDF) between 43,060 transnational corporations (TNCs), using data from the Orbis 2007 company database. The study, about to be published in PLoS One, has revealed there are

a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What’s more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms – the “real” economy – representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

1318 superconnected (red) and connected (yellow) TNCs at the core of the global economy (PLoS One)

Some critics argue the study lacks nuance; the head of the New England Complex Systems Institute reminds us in New Scientist that ownership does not necessarily mean power, for instance.

Other theorists quoted in the article are more interested in broad takeaways and policy implications. The TNC relationship structure, similar to other naturally-occurring structures, indicates owners of the superconnected TNCs are unlikely to be part of a global conspiracy to consolidate wealth and power. In fact, the lack of collusion may be more worrying than a conspiracy would have been: if the superconnectedness of the core economy occurred naturally and spontaneously, then, without new regulation, the stability of the global economy may continue to depend on the performance of the hyperconnected TNCs. (In 2007, the 34th most connected TNC was Lehman Brothers.)

The world’s most superconnected company in 2007, according to the researchers? Barclays plc. As I mention all the time, I live in northern Ghana. There isn’t a whole lot going on around here, but there are TWO air-conditioned Barclays banks here. On Bank Road.

THEORY: One of you will publish in The Baffler by 2016

The MIT Press have just announced that they’re adding The Baffler to their journals program, and will fund 15 issues over the next five years. This means the publication will (finally) be published regularly, that contributors will be paid and that you writers should update your bucket lists.

According to John Summers (see TNR profile), now The Baffler’s owner and editor, the first year is going to be one for the wonks:

The first year of the returning Baffler will consist of an election-year trilogy. The first issue that will appear in March 2012 is nearly complete, Summers said. Its contents will include essays by Rick Perlstein, Thomas Frank, and Barbara Ehrenreich, and a short story by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya. Three sections new to The Baffler will appear, too: “Lives of the Pundits,” a series of mock profiles; “Ancestors,” reprints with commentaries of authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, and Paul Lafargue; and the self-explanatory “Robber Barons.”

THEORY: David Attenborough’s vocabulary can move you

David Attenborough isn’t always enthralled almost to the point of ecstasy, but when he is, he is watching nature from a billabong in northern Australia. From a recent interview with The Guardian, ostensibly about his new series, Frozen Planet:

In Life on Earth, his first series that told the story of evolution in 12 hours of groundbreaking television, [David Attenborough] referred to Darwin as being “enthralled almost to the point of ecstasy” by his discoveries. Does he recognise that feeling?

“Again, it’s a bit highfalutin but there are occasions, yes. The process of making natural history films is to try to prevent the animal knowing you are there, so you get glimpses of a non-human world, and that is a transporting thing. A displaying blue bird of paradise is one of the most mind-blowing things you can imagine, but I suppose if I had to pick one I would say I remember getting up before dawn and going to a hide we had built by a billabong in northern Australia.

“Going there in the pitch dark and just watching dawn, watching the animals coming to this billabong in front of you, seeing the birds arrive and the kangaroos coming out and then seeing the crocs gliding across the top, and pythons snaking through the water and then these wonderful ibis and magpie geese and the sun coming up and the whole thing, I mean you suddenly saw a kind of prelapsarian, paradisical, Rousseauesque, Breughel-like world of the garden of Eden. Hmm … “

Hmm, time to shut my laptop and reconnect with nature, starting with the big bugs I’ll have squished by shutting my laptop.