Things we are reading today - November 20th, 2023

Silvio Gesell was a German economist who proposed that money should expire over time to encourage spending and circulation. He invented “Freigeld” currency that would depreciate through the use of stamps. Several towns experimented with stamp scrip currencies in the 1930s, finding they stimulated local economies. Gesell believed current money incentivizes hoarding rather than circulation. His ideas were discussed by thinkers like Keynes, Ezra Pound, and Frank Lloyd Wright. A few economists see potential value in Gesell’s concepts for stimulating spending during downturns through “hot money credits.” However, critics argue people would just store wealth elsewhere and it would disproportionately hurt the poor. Overall, Gesell pushed for reexamining economic systems and considering how money could better serve societies.

John Ackah Blay-Miezah ran one of the longest and most successful advance-fee scams in history, convincing investors for nearly 20 years that he had access to a $27 billion trust fund established by Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. Blay-Miezah extracted hundreds of millions from victims across Ghana, Europe, and the United States despite warnings from officials like Henry Kissinger. Through charisma and an ability to spin elaborate stories, he maintained the ruse was real as evidence mounted against him. Even after frequent arrests, charges were often dropped due to his connections with corrupt Ghanaian leaders who benefited from the scheme. The article details how Blay-Miezah continued the con for so long by persuading victims and themselves of false promises. It was not until a disastrous 1988 60 Minutes interview that his story finally unraveled, though some investors still believe funds could be recovered.

The article discusses the rise and limitations of the “deinfluencing” trend, where social media influencers encourage followers to consume less. While some early de-influencer posts reflected genuinely on overconsumption, it quickly became another marketing tactic as influencers simply promoted alternative products. Platforms like TikTok have further commercialized the online space through features that directly facilitate impulse purchases. The author argues true change is unlikely as advertising will always seek to colonize new spaces. Experts note the internet will only become more commercialized over time as marketing fills any space perceived as authentic. Young people feel they have no choice but to participate in the influencer economy given its current dominance. As long as growth-focused systems prioritize profits over user experience, only influencers and corporations will truly thrive online.

Gambling is common among college students, with an estimated 2-3% suffering from gambling addiction. As sports betting expands across more states and campuses, this problem is growing due to easy access to phones and intense advertising. College students are particularly vulnerable to addiction due to developmental factors. Institutions can help by creating clear gambling policies, promoting addiction awareness and treatment resources, surveying student attitudes, and ensuring counseling staff understand gambling disorders. With major sports throughout the year, universities should check in with students on responsible betting habits given addiction is treatable but prevention is best. Overall the article discusses the rising threat of gambling addiction on college campuses as sports betting access increases.
Harder Than it Looks discusses how several high-profile jobs are more difficult than they appear, including acting in movies, playing professional football, and working on Wall Street. Acting requires extensive physical demands during battle scenes and many retakes of scenes. Quarterbacks face physical punishment from defensive players each game. Working on Wall Street now involves suffocating compliance, less risk-taking ability, and lower pay despite long hours. The passage also notes that many jobs like teaching or construction work are challenging but often criticized. It concludes by arguing people should avoid overreacting to offhand comments and consider other perspectives instead of choosing to be offended.

Social media algorithms have evolved to prioritize engaging content over truthful information to maximize user attention and data collection. This has transformed the social web from a place for genuine connections into one dominated by outrage, misinformation, and inauthentic influencers. Studies show false news spreads more rapidly than true stories because people are more likely to interact with emotional or novel claims. As algorithms increasingly drive our experiences, we are left in a fog of irrelevant noise and propaganda from which extracting truthful understanding is difficult. The article argues the utopian ideals of early social media platforms have given way to a dystopian reality where profit motives and extreme speech drown out rational discussion. While changes may be hard, embracing ideas opposite to the individual self-importance is reinforced by today’s dominant social systems.


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