How the Nation of Luxembourg Is Racing to Privatise Space

Arkyd 6 spacecraft
Arkyd 6 spacecraft

Mining asteroids is the new old game, though no longer science fiction. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – which has all the square footage of an asteroid and, with a population up to slightly over half a million – has earmarked €200m to fund NewSpace companies that join its new space sector. In July, the parliament passed its law – the first of its kind in Europe, and the most far-reaching in the world – asserting that if a Luxembourgish company launches a spacecraft that obtains water, silver, gold or any other valuable substance on a celestial body, the extracted materials will be considered the company’s legitimate private property by a legitimate sovereign nation.

Should space benefit “all of humankind”, as the international treaties signed in the 60s intended, or is that idealism outdated? How do you measure those benefits, anyway? Does trickle-down theory apply in zero-gravity conditions?

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads

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Double-entry Bookkeeping

Luca Pacioli was a renaissance man – he was a conjuror, a master of chess, a lover of puzzles, a Franciscan Friar, and a professor of mathematics. But today he’s celebrated as the most famous accountant who ever lived, the father of double-entry bookkeeping. As the commercial enterprises of the Italian city states grew larger, more complex and more dependent on financial instruments such as loans and currency trades, the need for a more careful reckoning became painfully clear. In 1494 Pacioli wrote the definitive book on double-entry bookkeeping. It’s regarded by many as the most influential work in the history of capitalism. And as the industrial revolution unfolded, the ideas that Pacioli had set out came to be viewed as an essential part of business life; the system used across the world today is essentially the one that Pacioli described.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy – BBC World Service

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The Ceremony

Last fall a group of, well, let’s just call them crypto-wizards, came together in an undisclosed location to launch a new currency that promised total anonymity to its users. It’s an undertaking that involves some of the most elaborate security and cryptography ever done (so we’ve been told). And lots of math. In the middle of it, something started to get weird.

Radiolab

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Digging up the World Bank’s Best Kept Secret

Due to a project funded by the World Bank to boost the local economy, Honduran military violently evicted local peasants to make way for a palm oil plantation. Their land had been stolen, and a local priest had been murdered.
Sasha Chavkin investigated the World Bank for months, and he is telling a story of how the World Bank has become complicit in violently displacing people from their lands in order to make way for development projects all over the world.

The Breakthrough – ProPublica

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Financial Sector, Makers and Takers

Why finance has become an excessively powerful in the U.S. and has handicapped the growth and effectiveness of the rest of the economy. What can be done about it? Journalist and author Rana Foroohar of the Financial Times talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book, “Makers and Takers.”

EconTalk

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Power of Dead People

Our lives are controlled by invisible hands from the grave. Trillions of dollars of the US economy are devoted to executing the wishes of people who died long ago, rather than satisfying the needs, preferences, and values of those living now. Philosopher Barry Lam follows the story of the Hershey fortune to show how a 19th century industrialist constructed the oddest business structure to ensure that his idiosyncratic wishes would be fulfilled hundreds of years after his death. The story raises questions about why we give the dead so much power over our lives, and what this says about how we find meaning in our own lives given foreknowledge of our mortality.

Hi-Phi Nation

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Uncovering Wall Street’s Biggest Insider-Trading Scandal

The investigation of billionaire hedge-fund trader Steven A. Cohen. Sheelah Kolhatkar, the author of “Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, And The Quest To Bring Down The Most Wanted Man On Wall Street,” discusses her findings in how Cohen’s hedge fund, SAC Capital, acquired enormous wealth by using illegal methods, black edge, and how common such practices are on Wall Street.

DAVIES: You tell this book in part through the experiences of the FBI investigators and other government investigators. And you describe how when they started listening to conversations of people in hedge funds and traders and they talked so casually about trading this illegal inside information, it made them wonder – does everybody do this? Is this just the way it is? You worked in a hedge fund early in your career. Did it seem that way to you?

KOLHATKAR: …(Laughter) SAC Capital. But yeah – in fact, at the time, you end up in these jobs and whatever’s going on around you just seems normal, and you don’t even necessarily know to question it. And it was only later, looking back on what I had done earlier in my career as a hedge fund analyst that I realized sort of what it was. I was trying to get edge, too. I spent my days trying to sort of analyze our different investments and get information about them. I certainly didn’t venture into any areas that would’ve qualified as black edge, for example, but I didn’t really know the difference. And it was generally understood that you wanted to get the best intelligence that you could.
Illustration: Le reve by Picasso, bought by Steven A Cohen for $155m

Fresh Air | 7th Febryuary 2017

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Beneath the Financial Secrecy

Trillions of dollars are flowing through the world’s over 90 tax havens. This playground of the rich is growing rapidly. How do they do it?
A panel of expert economic writers examine some of the most significant financial exposes of our time, and discuss the challenges and dangers faced when pursuing justice.
Highlights from Griffith University’s Integrity 20 Conference, ‘What Lies Beneath’ 26th October, 2016

Big Ideas | 2nd February 2017

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Human Instinct to Herd

The instinct to herd is hardwired into us. And while humans still might physically clump into groups, it does translate into behavior linked to financial markets, news consumption, restaurant-picking and Brooklyn facial hair decisions.
Michelle Baddeley – a professor in economics and finance of the built environment at University College London — tells how modern herding often follows from an information imbalance, real or perceived, in which a person follows the wisdom of crowds. The decision to join in, she explains, is often based an astute reading of risk; as she quotes John Maynard Keynes, “It’s better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right.” As a real world example of that, she points to the plight of the junior researcher, whose career is best advanced by serving up their innovative insights along conventional lines.
Apart from reputational damage control, there are pluses and minuses to human herding, Baddeley notes there are advantages to finding safety in numbers: “It’s a good way to find a hotel.” But there are pernicious outcomes, too, like groupthink, as individuals join thought groups that reinforce their existing world-view. And it doesn’t help, her research finds, that people are more likely to herd the less well-informed they are.
Baddeley was principal investigator on a Leverhulme Trust project focused on neuroeconomic examination of herding in finance and has observed dire consequences of this in financial markets, where pushing against the grain makes for a short career for anyone other than the luckiest professional stockpicker.

Social Science Bites | 1st February 2017

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The Cult of the Expert – and How It Collapsed

Led by a class of omnipotent central bankers, experts have gained extraordinary political power. Will a populist backlash shatter their technocratic dream?

When the history is written of the revolt against experts, September 2008 will be seen as a milestone. The $85bn rescue of the American International Group (AIG) dramatised the power of monetary gurus in all its anti-democratic majesty. The president and Congress could decide to borrow money, or raise it from taxpayers; the Fed could simply create it. And once the AIG rescue had legitimised the broadest possible use of this privilege, the Fed exploited it unflinchingly. Over the course of 2009, it injected a trillion dollars into the economy – a sum equivalent to nearly 30% of the federal budget – via its newly improvised policy of “quantitative easing”. Time magazine anointed Bernanke its person of the year. “The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world,” the magazine declared admiringly.
Written by Sebastian Mallaby, read by Alice Arnold and produced by Simon Barnard
Photo: Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before Congress in October 2011, by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads | 11th November 2016

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