Monthly Recommendations (December 2021)

There is no specific theme for this month’s recommendation list. It is an assortment of the articles I read over the past year which had one thing in common: I wanted more people to read them and decide what they thought about the underlying institutions and people that these articles described. So, we have two articles about the tennis world: one about an athlete within the world and another about the incentive structure of the sport; one article about a non-contrarian CEO with some interesting ideas about running companies that he does not divulge, and another one about a politician with new realizations that helped him confirm 3 nominees to the US Supreme Court even though the confirmation of a single Supreme Court nominee was hailed as a big achievement just a few years ago on the TV Show, West Wing.

  1. Naomi Osaka and tennis journalism’s ugly history of demeaning its players (Abad-Santos)

    Vox (archived). 17 June, 2021.

    Naomi Osaka decided to take a break from tennis after she was fined for refusing to appear at post-match press conferences at the French Open. The moment she announced this was included in Google’s Year In Search 2021 video. It was a major event in tennis; it was a major event in sports in general: A player decided to stop playing the sport because they could not deal with pressure from the journalists who cover that sport.

    I don’t agree with the viewpoint of this article from Vox. Vox has been noticeably moving to the liberal left in the past year, especially since the departure of the two founders and more of the founding staff. This article seems to be another indication of this. Sports has never been just about the game that is being played. It has always been about the human element: People play these games and it is these people we are interested in, more than anything else. This was important for me in understanding the disgusting behavior of the spectators at the US Open 2018 final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams who were booing the victor. If it was all about the sport, people would not be booing anyone because they got to see a good fight.

    If the athlete decides to just leave and not talk to anyone until they have had the chance to re-watch their performance and talk to their coaches/PR consultants to decide what they are going to say, the apparent “raw” element of sports is lost. This shift might not be a bad thing, but if this really does happen, the group of spectators will also change.

  2. A Few Tennis Pros Make a Fortune. Most Barely Scrape By. (Steinberger)

    New York Times (archived). 29 June, 2021.

    The incentive structure inside the professional tennis world is messed up. There are multiple tiers of competitions in which professionals early in their career must compete and win to get spots in the noticeable tournaments. These early tournaments are tiring and often played without any sponsorship. A player that does manage to travel and compete in these early tournaments will face the daunting task of defeating a well-rested seeded player in the more popular tournaments. This system is beneficial to players who have already made it and perhaps answers the question about why the established players from 10 years ago are still the established players of today (Nadal, Federer, Williams). The New Yorker published a fictional take of the same problem, showing the state of a player who depends on benefactors to pay for his practice and travel, and develops a relationship with the donor’s offspring.

  3. These Chinese Millenials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy (Chen)

    New York Times (archived). 3 July, 2021.

    Opting out of the rat race is not just a personal choice in China. It is an interesting problem for a government to solve. Governments have been working to increase the workforce participation rate for several decades. But if they work their population too hard, the efforts are bound to boomerang and blow up in the government’s faces. This is a good indication of what late-stage looks like in the socialism/capitalism hybrid that the Chinese economy is based on1. We have already seen what late-stage socialism looks like in Europe with the pro-status-quo, anti-immigrant sentiment that has been growing over the past few years. In America, late-stage capitalism has manifested as dizzying inequality between executives and workers. India’s capitalism-based economy seems to be heading towards the inequality scenario. Looking to other economies, identifying parallels, and trying to prevent them is a worthwhile exercise that policymakers seem uninterested to engage themselves in.

  4. Does Palantir See Too Much? (Steinberger)

    New York Times (archived). 21 Oct, 2020.

    The present is the time of the contrarian CEO. Just look at Elon Musk and his cavalier usage of his Twitter account to poke fun at regulators despite being burned before. This article is a profile of Palantir’s founder Alex Karp. Karp is a contrarian CEO, who thrives on the mystery that he is able to generate. He is also non-conforming in the way that he runs the company. He talks about how the “team” is more important than everything else; which is similar to a lot of other software companies and not contrarian at all. But one of the advantages of his “let us maintain the mystery about Palantir” routine is that it makes it impossible to tell whether he is running the company in the standard fashion or if he is doing something truly contrarian. This article is a fun read simply due to the eccentric nature of the CEO. (Take for instance, his “inability to be norm-conforming and marry.” Or his flight to Germany to study German and read the writers and thinkers he was drawn to in their mother tongue.) The way that Karp talks about himself and Palantir in this article makes it seem like a cult. This might be the very effect that Karp is going for.

  5. Enabler-in-Chief (Mayer)

    New Yorker (archived). 20 April, 2020.

    The American political system is ridden with veto points which can be exercised by a single person. This also means that a single person who is able to keep their party’s policymakers together in an unbreakable coalition is extremely valuable. Former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from the Republican party was just such a man. He was able to keep all the Senators from his party united towards a single goal, a staggering number of times during his 5-year term as the majority leader (since 2015). The one time that he had some doubt about whether he would be able to keep his caucus together was when Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice in his election year. On this occasion, McConnell decided to keep this from even being voted on. Even during the last few chaotic weeks of the Trump presidency, McConnell managed to confirm 1 Supreme Court justice and prevent the impeachment in the “second impeachment trial” of Trump after (and despite) the events of January 6, 2021. His understanding of the rules and procedures of the Senate were unparalleled. His realization that the electorate will blame the party in power for losses, even if they were caused due to a filibuster from the minority was genius and the key to most policy that did not go through the American system whenever the president is a Democrat. This article delves into the “McConnell” psyche by talking to people who worked alongside him and got a chance to look at how he makes decisions. The most memorable quote about McConnell, unfortunately, is one that shows a total lack of policy-making principles:

    He [McConnell] never had any core principles. He just wants to be something. He doesn’t want to do anything.

  1. “Common prosperity” is the CCP’s answer to the widening economic inequality. Some policies that are included in this such as limits on for-profit education institutions are worth adopting in nearly every economy that wants to improve education opportunities for their citizenry. — img