Weekend Reading — June 10, 2018

1. Despite Maduros re-election in Venezuela and his promises of food for votes, an estimated 4,000 Venezuelans are leaving the country every day for Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil, creating further dysfunction in a country already considered a failed state by most.

Last week, the Washington Post checked in on the increasingly fragile state of the country following Maduro’s reelection, and the increasingly sparse civil institutions that undergird any working society.

“If we continue like this, Venezuela won’t even be a Third World country anymore,” said Flores, the school principal.

2. A recently published study has debunked the famous marshmallow test, which correlated the recipients ability to delay gratification (in this case, by not consuming a single marshmallow based on the promise of a second to come) with successful outcomes later in life. The long-held notion, popularized in a bestselling book entitled The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success was that children able to innately understand the benefit of self-control and delayed gratification in childhood would carry into their education and adulthood, and ultimately produce less impulsive, and more successful adults.

Using a larger sample size that spanned across race, class, and parents’ educational level, the revised study tied the child’s social and economic background as the primary determinant behind the childrens’ decision to forego the first marshmallow, with limited long-term correlation between the decision to consume the marshmellow and the childrens’ medium term outcome (using performance in standardized testing as a barometer).

As the Atlantic hypothesized, children who are brought up in relative abundance are able to more easily internalize the promise of a future reward than someone of limited means, where meals, rewards, and other day-to-day routines are less promised.

3. In the NY Times Opinion section, Paul Krugman provides a “primer” on the history of the politicization of trade and trade “wars” in the United States, and the “political realism” that often outweighs economic theory in trade-related decisions.

While Krugman concedes that it is historically the role of the Executive Branch to manage trade relationships and implement tariffs, he sees no logic or justification for Trump’s levied tariffs.

Related to Trade, NPR podcast Planet Money did a feature on the current state of the WTO several weeks ago that explained the Trump Administration’s efforts to paralyze WTO rulings by vetoing all nominated judges.

4. Marking the publication of a 930-page collection of the works of Brazilian writer Machado de Assis, NYTimes Book Critic Parul Sehgal writes on the literary legacy of the author, who has been compared from everyone from Dickens to Kafka, and in between.

The collection of stories appears to span decades and various styles, from straight romances to modernist stories to political satire. While a bit maximalist in its scope, the book lover in me has already mentally filed this onto my to-buy list.

5. With the recent announcement of the June 2018 release of John Coltrane’s  “undiscovered” album, Both Directions at Once, there’s always a lingering doubt in my mind whether is getting the Jimi Hendrix / Tupac treatment – a thirst for new and repackaged material that doesn’t necessarily justify a new release.

However, all signs point to the album being a worthy addition to Coltrane’s catalog, including the “who” (John Coltrane’s reknowned quartet – Tyner, Garrison, and Elvin Jones), “where” (recorded in famed engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio) and “when” (1963 – leading up to the 1965 Love Supreme sessions), not to mention the “what” (a new John Coltrane album!).

Attached to this article was a posthumous appreciation of Coltrane written by the Times’ longtime jazz critic, Ben Ratliff. The article provides incredibly useful contexts for the prodigious rigor and study behind Coltrane’s genius, and his desire to continually improve, expand, and innovate. Ratliff’s commentary led me to reexamine and listen to two of Coltrane’s later albums, Ascension and Meditations, both of which are hardly easy listens, but avant garde, free jazz masterpieces in their own right.

6. In an article reminiscent of the B”razil’s initial pre-sal discovery and Lula’s 2008 proclamation that “God is Brazilian, Brazil has once again returned to the auction markets to sell blocks of its offshore oil deposits, with global oil corporations like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell lining up to own a piece of some of the world’s richest (and most inaccessible and expensively extracted) stores of oil.

Invoking Brazil’s mix of capitalism and state-subsidized industrialization that was so apparent over the past month’s trucker’s strike, Petrobras exercised its ‘legal’ right to own a stake in each of the blocks, as well as serve as their operator. The Economist provided a helpful explanation on the convoluted rules surrounding the purchase and operation of the blocks back in 2013.

7. The Financial Times checks in on the current state of Bitcoin, which seemed ubiquitious last year as it climbed up to $20k / bitcoin and has since settled around $7k over the past few months.

Using data from blockchain research company Chainalysis, there seems to have been a shift in the trading volume from longer term holders, or investors to traders/speculators, who are focused on the rewards from smaller fluctuations.

While Steven Johnson’s longform piece in the NYTimes Magazine remains essential in explaining the long-term use case and potential of bitcoin, for the moment bitcoin continues to remain primarily an investment vehicle. Quoted at the risk of ridicule years from now, one cryptocurrency observer commented: “Speculation remains the primary use case for these digital assets; merchant or institutional adoption does not appear to be a primary driver of price,”

As the number of coins and their use cases continue to grow exponentially, I am curious to what extent bitcoin will continue to be at the vanguard of innovation and an accurate measure of cryptocurrency sentiment more broadly, or whether the decentralized nature of the currencies will result in a fracturing of investment vehicles and use cases.

8. This week’s NYTimes Book Review has no shortage of compelling reviews of books that seem worthy of reading, just in time for the summer:

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