The first results from the world’s biggest basic income experiment: Money always helps, but for the very poor, one lump sum can last a long time (Dylan Matthews, Dec 1, 2023, Vox)

The latest research on the GiveDirectly pilot, done by MIT economists Tavneet Suri and Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee, compares three groups: short-term basic income recipients (who got the $20 payments for two years), long-term basic income recipients (who get the money for the full 12 years), and lump sum recipients, who got $500 all at once, or roughly the same amount as the short-term basic income group. The paper is still being finalized, but Suri and Banerjee shared some results on a call with reporters this week.

By almost every financial metric, the lump sum group did better than the monthly payment group. Suri and Banerjee found that the lump sum group earned more, started more businesses, and spent more on education than the monthly group. “You end up seeing a doubling of net revenues” — or profits from small businesses — in the lump sum group, Suri said. The effects were about half that for the short-term $20-a-month group.

The explanation they arrived at was that the big $500 all at once provided valuable startup capital for new businesses and farms, which the $20 a month group would need to very conscientiously save over time to replicate. “The lump sum group doesn’t have to save,” Suri explains. “They just have the money upfront and can invest it.”

Intriguingly, the results for the long-term monthly group, which will receive about $20 a month for 12 years rather than two, had results that looked more like the lump sum group. The reason, Suri and Banerjee find, is that they used rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs). These are institutions that sprout up in small communities, especially in the developing world, where members pay small amounts regularly into a common fund in exchange for the right to withdraw a larger amount every so often.

“It converts the small streams into lump sums,” Suri summarizes. “We see that the long-term arm is actually using ROSCAs. A lot of their UBI is going into ROSCAs to generate these lump sums they can use to invest.”


India’s Jingoism Lost at the Cricket World Cup: Nationalism is replacing sportsmanship in Modi’s India (TUNKU VARADARAJAN, DEC 1, 2023, The UnPopulist)

Neutrals cheered Australia on Sunday—a team that has historically been unloved outside its own shores—because most cricket fans worldwide are thoroughly sick—fed up, pissed off—about India’s bully-boy dominance of world cricket. I don’t mean sporting dominance, which neutral fans can live with (as was the case with the West Indians of the Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards era, or Brazilian football in the time of Pelé). It’s the wholesale takeover by the BCCI of [international] cricket’s financing, values and calendar, giving them a grip over the game that is stronger, more ruthless and vice-like, more absolute and remorseless, more self-serving and mercantilist, than that once exercised by the game’s original overlords in England (who might, at some level, have been forgiven their assertion of ownership over cricket because they did, in fact, give us the game).

The BCCI has warped cricket, distorted it, making it so India-centric that other proud nations—some with better pedigrees than India’s—have been reduced to bit-part players, mendicants, petitioners for match-time. Everything is now about India: the crowds, the songs, the scheduling, the pitches, the money. The one element the BCCI cannot control, mercifully, is the outcome of a match. Try as India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party might—for the BCCI is now the BJP in cricketing form—the result of a match cannot be influenced to suit its needs the way an election can. International umpires are not the Indian judiciary. The International Cricket Council is not (yet) the Indian Election Commission.

That India lost in the final was karmic payback for the BCCI’s sins against the game, and also for the Ahmedabad crowd’s unwillingness to be sporting and civilized, to appreciate cricket as something other than a jingoistic exercise in which India must win every game to the chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” [“Glory to Lord Rama”] and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” [“Hail Mother India”]. Let us never again hold the final of a World Cup in such a city, a place in which cricket is but the means to petty nationalist ends, where few stand up to applaud an opposing batsman who scores a magnificent, match-winning hundred. Stay with Chennai, with Mumbai, with Kolkata, where the crowds love cricket (and not just winning).

In the end, justice was done. Australia won.


GOP Melts Down As Dick Durbin Uses Its Tactics For Advancing Biden Judges (Jennifer Bendery, Nov 30, 2023, HuffPo)

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had full-blown meltdowns on Thursday after Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) held votes on two of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees without allowing debate on them, saying he was simply following the “new precedent” established by Republicans when they did the same thing to Democrats, twice.

Durbin appeared to completely blindside Republicans by moving straight to votes on two U.S. District Court nominees, Mustafa Kasubhai and Eumi Lee, without opening up the floor for discussions on them.


Disinflation Dream Come True (Alexander W. Salter, December 1, 2023R, AIER)

The current target for the federal funds rate, which is the Fed’s key policy interest rate, is between 5.25 and 5.50 percent. Using core PCEPI growth, the inflation-adjusted range is 3.29-3.54 percent. As always, we must compare this to the natural rate of interest. Sometimes called r* by economists, this is the inflation-adjusted rate consistent with maximum employment and output, as well as non-accelerating inflation. We can’t observe this rate directly. But we can estimate it. Widely cited figures from the New York Fed place r* between 0.57 and 1.19 percent. That means current market rates are roughly three times as high as the estimated natural rate!


China, America, and Thucydides’ Trap (Richard Allen Hyde, December 1, 2023, Providence)

Thus, these two powers have already traded places, come into armed conflict once, and are now in a position of relative parity. One would think that their chances of avoiding the Thucydidean Trap are pretty good. Both countries are at the top of the world’s economic heap and very risk-averse. Both have much to gain from their relationship and much to lose if it breaks down, as does the rest of the world.

A major shooting war between the two countries would be a disaster for both and for the world at large, an even greater disaster now than it would have been a few years ago because of the major shooting war in Ukraine. China (rather quietly) backs the Russian invasion. The US and most of Europe are sending military aid to Ukraine. The conflict is leading to a major upset of the world economy. China can certainly weather this storm, but it cannot be happy about the effect on the world economy and is apparently in no mood to bail out Russia with substantial aid. This brutal and clumsy invasion will certainly not make China’s intended digestion of Taiwan any easier. The chance of the Taiwanese voting to become part of China now looks more remote than ever.

Nevermind that China’s economy peaked at a GDP per capita half of Mississippi’s, it is now taking on basket case status. Treating it as a peer is really just a case of old “Yellow Menace” terrors.


Hunter Biden hands the hapless James Comer another L (LIZ DYE, DEC 1, 2023, Public Notice)

Part of the reason Comer and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan have had difficulty ginning up support for a Biden impeachment is that they keep promising they’ve got the goods, only to step all over a never-ending patch of rakes when it comes time to prove it.

In May, Comer announced that he had whistleblowers documenting FBI abuses of January 6 rioters. It only took a news cycle for that story to fall apart when it emerged that the supposed whistleblower was an agent who claimed to be a conscientious objector after refusing to participate in the arrest of a member of the Three Percenters Militia who breached the Capitol carrying a GoPro and maced someone in the face.

In a telling moment, Comer went on Fox & Friends around this time and crashed and burned, with host Steve Doocy pointing out to him that “you don’t actually have any facts” and “there’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally.”

Then, in October, Comer jubilantly produced a $200,000 check from James Biden to his brother Joe in 2018 labeled “loan repayment” and demanded “documentation clarifying the nature of this payment” from the White House.

“At the end of the day, there’s no document that shows there was a loan,” Comer told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo.

Almost immediately documentation emerged showing that Joe loaned his brother the cash and didn’t receive any interest. But even worse for Comer, his own, shadier history of passing cash back and forth with his own brother was immediately reported by the Daily Beast.

Confronted with his hypocrisy, Comer got into a heated exchange with Rep. Jared Moskowitz, calling the Florida Democrat a “smurf” during a House hearing.

Unsurprisingly, Comer’s colleagues have ceased to pin their hopes on him producing much in the way of useful impeachment materials.

Nevertheless, he persisted

After issuing his subpoenas, Comer spent much of November patting himself on the back for being so brave and honest, even telling disgraced former journalist Benny Johnson that the committee was “in the downhill phase” of their investigation because they’d taken all this time to amass a mountain of documentary evidence.

“We can bring these people in for depositions or Committee hearings, whichever they choose,” he babbled.

And so Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell called his bluff.


How Musicians Invented the Antihero: In this section from my new book ‘Music to Raise the Dead’, I probe the hidden musical origins of Hollywood protagonists (TED GIOIA, NOV 29, 2023, Honest Broker)

[T]he musical connections of the antihero are more than just a matter of origins. In a very real sense, musicians stand out as the most powerful representatives of the antihero concept in popular culture. Back in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was a far more influential (and controversial) antihero than James Dean. In the 1960s, Mick Jagger shook up more people with his moral ambivalence than Clint Eastwood. A few years later, Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain lived the antihero contradictions in ways that make Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford look like pretenders to the throne.

Just listen to the defining songs of these artists, from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Sympathy for the Devil” to “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and all those other antihero tunes still in non-stop rotation on playlists worldwide decades later, and consider their impact on the modern psyche. And it’s not just rock. Every music genre needed to find its own antiheroes to maintain relevance in the marketplace.

Country music fans called them outlaws and although this genre is supposedly a bastion of traditional values, its greatest legends are bad boys like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash—who famously sang of killing a man in Reno “just to watch him die.” Or what about reggae and Bob Marley, who announced, in a famous song, that “I shot the sheriff.” And you couldn’t even begin to count the songs boasting about murder and violence in hip-hop and blues.

Robert Johnson is an antihero. Tupac Shakur is an antihero. Billie Holiday is an antihero. Even Glenn Gould is an antihero. Their mythos is as big as their music.

As the last example suggests, the songs themselves don’t need to be violent, or even have lyrics, to convey this ethos. If I had to pick the biggest musical antihero of all, I’d opt for trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles may have been famous for cool jazz, but was hot and intemperate in almost every other sphere of his life.

Yet that’s the paradox that drives the whole antihero meme, those simmering, unpredictable interchanges between fire and ice, sympathy and rage, the raw and the cooked. It’s the most potent persona in contemporary narrative, and it’s never lost its ties to music, although on the surface the two concepts—songs and antiheroes—appear to have nothing in common.