All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Risk of Inflation

Several prominent investors have been voicing concerns lately over the potential for return of consumer price inflation sometime over the next several years, with the latest commentator being Michael Burry of The Big Short fame. While inflation is by no means assured this decade, the risk factors for it are rising. It’s worth being aware of the history of inflation in the United States and what may cause it in the years ahead. Consumer price inflation is a broad rise in prices of everyday goods, and is often driven by a notable increase in the broad money supply combined with limitations in key supply chains and scarcity of essential commodities. *   *   * For this article, it helps to define two types of money. The first type is the broad money supply, which refers to the national sum of physical currency in circulation, checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and similar cash-equivalents. For the United States, this figure is approximately $19.5 trillion. The second type of money is the monetary base, or base money, …

Starvation and Ethnic Cleansing Stalk Ethiopia

“Forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten,” wrote eminent 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon of the “Aethiopians” as they “slept near a thousand years.” Ethiopia remains the only African country not colonised—its rugged mountainous terrain kept out intruders and helped to preserve one of Africa’s most unique cultures. The country is far more prominent on the global scene these days, in large part due to a terrible famine that seared images of its starving children into the world’s collective consciousness during the 1980s. But more recently, it has attracted attention due to its remarkable economic renaissance. The country was in the ascendant and its tourism industry was champing at the bit. A campaign was launched promoting Ethiopia as the Land of Origins—the cradle of humanity out of which the antecedents of modern humans set off from Africa around 185,000 years ago. But the world’s tendency toward forgetfulness has re-emerged since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the military into Tigray, the country’s most northern region, last November. This move has plunged Ethiopia into deepening …

How a Single Anonymous Twitter Account Caused an ‘Indigenized’ Canadian University to Unravel

In a recently published Quillette article, Political Science professor Frances Widdowson described the difficulties that Canadian university administrators face when they seek to “Indigenize” their schools. Everyone in academia seems to agree that Indigenization is an urgent task, but the particulars are typically ill-defined. As Widdowson reports in a newly published book, these efforts at Indigenization (sometimes referred to as “decolonization”) comprise a combination of symbolic gestures, ramped-up affirmative-action programs, mandatory anti-racism courses, and demands that Indigenous folklore be accorded epistemological stature on par with science. At Concordia University in Montreal, for instance, a dozen researchers are collaborating on a project called “Decolonizing Light,” whose aim is to “investigate the reproduction of colonialism in and through physics and higher physics education.” Our scientific understanding of light as constituting electromagnetic radiation perceptible to the human eye, these scholars explain, is the historical product of “a white male dominated field [i.e. physics] disconnected from social life and geopolitical history. [Its] narrative both constitutes and reproduces inequality.” Widdowson (who isn’t Indigenous) has been criticized for casting doubt on …

A Cardinal Sin

I was brought up to think of a university as a haven for free thought and free inquiry; a place where established scholars and students communicate ideas, in both directions; a place where old thoughts and new are subjected to rigorous examination. I was therefore appalled by the accusations made against me at a live-streamed Stanford University Faculty Senate meeting on February 11th and published online by Joshua Landy, David Palumbo-Liu and two other faculty members. I was included in a group of some half-dozen Hoover fellows who were said to have “abused” the position of the Institution and “quite possibly, contributed to significant public harm.” Landy expressed astonishment that I am “still on the roster” and that Stanford somehow failed “to publicly censure” me. Like Palumbo-Liu, Landy is a professor of comparative literature. He is the author of two books: Philosophy as Fiction (Oxford, 2004) and How To Do Things with Fictions (Oxford, 2012). In his presentation to the Faculty Senate, Landy chose to present his statements concerning me as fact. Once again, however, …

Decolonising Math is Rooted in a Decades-Old Conflict

For decades, a conflict has been simmering in the elementary school classrooms of the English-speaking world. On one side are those who place mathematics understanding above all else and whose teaching methods involve asking students to figure out ways to solve authentic mathematics problems, focusing on the process while de-emphasizing the importance of obtaining correct answers. On the other side, often painted as stuffy traditionalists, are those who assert the importance of explicit teaching, practice, and memorization. Welcome to the math wars. The origins of the math wars stretch back to the educational progressivists of the 19th century. Drawing on the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while reviling the strict discipline and recitation of the school house of the 1800s, they demanded a new, reformed mode of education. Learning should proceed through experience. After all, kids can learn lots of things through pure immersion, from recognizing individual faces, to speaking their mother tongue, navigating their local area or sharing resources with friends. Why should they not learn math the same way? Why can’t learning be more …

Against Dilettantes

“Welcome to the country of amateurs,” a good friend said when I first arrived in England. That was 20 years ago and, now that I’ve had time to think about it, my friend stands corrected. He should have said, “Welcome to the country of dilettantes.” Because there is a difference, you see. While both species belong to the verminous family of the overambitious and the under-qualified, an amateur poses a lower environmental threat. Aware of his limitations, he keeps a certain distance from his subject and treats it with respect. A dilettante, regrettably, does no such thing. Instead, a dilettante dabbles. In anything, everything, trying his hand at things he is not remotely qualified to do. A fellow with no linguistic training writes a book on the English language. Another fellow with no literary training writes a book of literary criticism. Hacks of every genre, from lifestyle to cookery, opine on politics and economics. I meet a lot of publishers. Where I come from, an average publisher has a postgraduate degree in philology and a …

Does Suffering Provide Meaning and Purpose in Life?—A Reply to Freya India

A recent article in Quillette by Freya India raises the age-old problem of how to understand the connection between suffering and meaning in one’s life. India’s argument is that some suffering is unavoidable, but more suffering may be beneficial if one is able to understand its advantages. Generation Z—those born since 1997—are historically unique insofar as they arrived in the Internet and social media age. But is suffering experienced differently according to a person’s circumstances? And are today’s under-25s that much different from earlier generations in the way they respond to stressors? A key characteristic of the social climate in which today’s under-25s live is that they cannot afford to ignore the pressures of creating and maintaining an identity on social media, and of trying to avoid the many hazards presented by aggressive activism and what has become known as “cancel culture.” This environment brings its own anxieties, because what is done on the Internet is very difficult to undo. Arousing serious and/or widespread antipathy from others may ruin one’s life-chances with no means of …

Lockdown Scepticism Was Never a ‘Fringe’ Viewpoint

Whether or not lockdowns are justifiable on public-health grounds, they certainly represent the greatest infringement on civil liberties in modern history. In the UK, lockdowns have contributed to the largest economic contraction in more than 300 years, as well as countless bankruptcies, and a dramatic rise in public borrowing. This does not mean that lockdowns were the wrong policy, since they might have been necessary to prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 critical-care patients. (And such measures are justified, proponents argue, on the grounds that they prevent infected individuals from harming others by inadvertently transmitting a deadly disease.) But as I will argue below, there’s plenty of evidence that supports those on the other side of this issue, notwithstanding the efforts of politicians, experts, and social-media companies to paint such dissent as marginal or even dangerous. * * * Throughout the pandemic, the British government has assured the public that it is being “led by the science.” However, a number of scientists and other commentators have disputed this claim. These “lockdown …

The Podcaster Who (Single-handledly) Made Me Love History

This is an instalment of Simple Pleasures, an occasional Quillette series about some of the new joys that our writers have discovered as a result of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Writers interested in contributing may contact Quillette at pitch@quillette.com. My law-school years were humbling ones. I’d been admitted to a highly touted American program based pretty much entirely on my ability to ace standardized tests. This skill didn’t signify any actual knowledge, however. And once on campus, I found myself surrounded by people who were much smarter and more accomplished. But one positive thing about being the runt of the intellectual litter is that you learn to jump higher for scraps—and the experience set me on an intellectual-improvement kick that persists to this day. Coming into law school, my own background was in engineering, while most of my classmates were products of elite programs in history, political science, and philosophy. As such, they tended to casually throw around adjectives such as “Rawlsian” and “Hegelian.” I had no idea who Rawls or Hegel …

My Generation Isn’t Suffering Enough

An age of happiness is quite impossible, because men want only to desire it but not to have it, and every individual who experiences good times learns to downright pray for misery and disquietude. ~Nietzsche1 My generation is miserable. Gen Z, those of us born after 1997, are the saddest, loneliest, and most mentally fragile age group to date, cursed with rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. How can that be? How can a generation with everything feel so desperately unhappy? By almost every metric, human life is dramatically better today than it ever has been. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from around 90 percent in 1820 to just 10 percent in 2015, while rates of illiteracy, mortality, and battle deaths are also in rapid decline. For the most part, Gen Z are heirs to an immense fortune: a utopian world of instant gratification and technological dynamism. In theory, this should be the age of happiness. And yet, misery abounds. In the United States, 54 percent of Gen Z …