Monday, February 28, 2011

Neologism Watch: 'Anthropocene'

Anybody who witnessed the strange furor over Pluto's demotion from official planet to dwarf planet knows that scientific categories matter. More than factual data, categories shape our perception and influence our values. That's why the recent push to establish a new geologic epoch defined by human impact, called the 'Anthropocene,' is cause for celebration and support.

To be sure, geologic categories should be determined by geologists through rigorous inquiry and public reasoning. Yet the fact that human-driven processes are leaving permanent imprints on the Earth with magnitudes equivalent to other past epoch-defining events should make it a one-sided debate.

An official Anthropocene category could generate a fantastic branding campaign to combat the corrosive belief in a static, historically-fixed Earth. Many environmentalists, by focusing solely on avoiding future environmental damage, neglect a powerful message concerning the changes already wrought by human technology. Bill McKibben's Eaarth is perhaps the best manifesto of this sort, methodically listing current environmental changes caused by global heating and ecological destruction. Fostering environmentalist preferences among a global population still reeling from economic catastrophe has been difficult, not least due to the supposedly vague, far-off nature of environmental costs. But the fact is humanity has made the world its own, whether we like it or not. It's time we formalized this harsh reality.

Quote of the Week

"There is a persistent division in the social sciences between those who prefer to break their material up into variables and those who prefer dealing with whole cases. In our experience, there are few causes of greater confusion among graduate social scientists, many of whom insist on speaking in the language of variables while working with whole cases, or occasionally vice versa . . . Our view is that there is not one 'right' way to do analysis. Both variable-driven and case-driven research are the products of prior conceptualization and theorization, since neither case nor variable exist as objects. If we are interested in parsimonious explanations and generalization as to what causes what, then it is useful to isolate variables and examine their effects across cases. If we are interested in context and in the complexity of outcomes, then whole cases may yield more insight. So one approach may explain part of the outcome in a large number of cases, while another may explain most of the outcome in a small number of cases."
From Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences edited by Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hyper-Rationality in American Politics

Ronald Brownstein has a fascinating article about the increasing role Republican governors are playing in opposing Obama:
Whatever the governors’ motivations (one man’s posturing, after all, is another man’s principle), their unreserved enlistment into Washington’s wars marks a milestone. It creates a second line of defense for conservatives to contest Obama even after he wins battles in Congress. It tears another hole in the fraying conviction that state capitals are less partisan than Washington. And it creates a precedent that is likely to encourage more guerrilla warfare between Democratic governors and a future Republican president.
American politics increasingly resembles a kind of total war in which each party mobilizes every conceivable asset at its disposal against the other. Most governors were once conscientious objectors in that struggle. No more. 
Ezra Klein (who's really been on lately) extends the observation by adding the courts to the list of new political weapons being deployed against Obama. These trends fit with my hypothesis about why our politics is so dysfunctional: politicians are increasingly rational (maximizing political utility) and better able to make correct political calculations.

We've already seen this hyper-rationality change the nature of federal legislative politics by eliminating internal geographic diversity in favor of party-rationality (where the only coalition is the party). What's scary now is that this homogenization process is occurring both horizontally across our governmental structure (the judicial branch) and vertically through the layers of federalism (state governors). Dynamic and ever-shifting political coalitions are critical to a healthy democracy, and if party identification continues to eliminate all other concerns (ex. state well-being, proper legal analysis), we ought to explore options for transitioning away from a two-party system. If every last bit of government becomes consumed by political hyper-rationality based on party, zero-sum will be the name of the game. I wonder what the Green Party is up to...

Monday, February 21, 2011


It seems that the flux currently wracking the Upper Midwest is not limited only to the political and meteorological domains; metaphysical happenings are afoot in the city of Chicago, which is set to elect a new mayor on Tuesday.

I've been closely following the race through presumptive mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's doppelganger twitter feed, and it seems that the first Twitter novella may have finally come to an end--in spectacular fashion.

MayorEmanuel realized tonight that his reality--a twitter feed--is not the only reality. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics dictates that the election tomorrow will collapse the Rahm Emanuel wavefunction, thus necessitating the end of a brilliant and motherfucking heartfelt story.

Although I'm sorry to lose such a creative modern fable, the real Rahm will probably have more causal linkages to systems that really matter; jobs, economics, public policy, etc. If there can only be one, best it be the real one. If you'd like to learn more about the science that postulates multiple or parallel realities, check out The Hidden Reality by physicist Brian Greene. Or, for a more literary take, read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. I'm generally bullish on the stability of the space-time continuum, but after tonight I'm a bit antsy. Is my consciousness just a high-tech twitter feed created by some bored teenager? Oh well, cogito ergo sum motherfuckers.

Make The Switch

I'm probably the last person under thirty to make the switch, but i finally did it a few weeks ago after reading this article. I'm loving it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Dimensional Collapse of the Republican Mind

The two major political parties in the U.S. are largely defined by their respective normative beliefs about high-level political philosophic concepts; Democratic ideals and values differ from those of Republicans. These abstract ideals and values can change over time, but generally they tend to be very stable. Specific policy goals change often, but the underlying values don't. Admitting a little more complexity, however, it's clear that causality doesn't simply flow in one direction (ideals --> policy goals). Rather lower-level concepts (like specific policy goals) can affect higher-level concepts by becoming established meaningful commitments in individuals or becoming embedded institutionally. In both cases, the translation (or operationalization) of ideals to policy goals is not a smooth linear process but instead a complex web of multiplier and feedback effects.

So why am I telling you all this? In the realm of ideas, the Republican Party has been really awful lately. It is reactionary and extremely close-minded. Republicans seldom engage in creative thinking or complex reasoning. While they might talk about the virtues of freedom or efficient markets, in reality Republicans act on only one principle: opposing government action. In the operationalization of ideals into policy goals, the Republican Party has hit a critical threshold, and is now being consumed before our very eyes: the policy goal of "oppose government" has mushroomed to epic proportions and its scale is smothering all other normative forces, including high-level ideals and values.

To better understand this situation, let's turn to the concept of instrumentality. Normative assertions come in two varieties, final and instrumental. A final goal is something we want for its own sake; ideals and values fit in this category. Instrumental goals are things we want in order to get something else; specific policy goals are instrumental to achieving the realization of an ideal or value. So when Democrats raise taxes on high-income earners, they're not doing it for its own sake, but rather to get closer to the final ideal of economic equality. [Instrumentality is a very broad concept, and although I'm using it here to only describe the distinction between ideals and policy goals, it can be applied to more mundane topics as well]

In politics, thinking about things as instrumental is associated with pragmatism and strategy. A legislator might support a policy that is directly at odds with her identity and brand if, in the end, the outcome is closer to her ideals and values. As modern science has shown, reality is exceedingly complex, and increasingly we're finding that our intuition and common-sense lead us to incorrect conclusions. This often causes trouble, as good policy can get killed if it seems too counter-intuitive or overly complex.

Contemporary Democrats are very amenable to instrumental thinking. A classic example is school bussing and affirmative action: in order to get closer to the ideal of racial equality, we must employ policies that treat racial minorities differently than whites. Other examples include inflationary dovishness in monetary policy and supporting contraception to reduce the number of abortions performed in the U.S.

Republicans, on the other hand, don't really do instrumental policy anymore. It's like they just don't get it. Contemporary Republicans do just one thing: oppose government action. But what about those two values that have been associated with the Republican Party for as long as I can remember: freedom and free markets? Aren't those the final ideals of Republicans, ones that would lead pragmatic legislators to occasionally craft counter-intuitive instrumental policy? Such policy would take the form of government action that clearly and incontrovertibly enhances freedom and market efficiency. So let's think: on what issues would we expect to see this type of behavior?

Take anti-trust policy. It's a fact that monopolies destroy economic freedom and cause market failures. One would expect Republicans to support government action to reduce market power and safeguard competition. Yet they oppose all regulation of this sort.

Net-neutrality is another interesting issue that paradoxically necessitates curbing the freedom of telecommunications firms in order to safeguard the freedom and creativity of everyone (including the telecommunications firms themselves!). The Republicans? On this issue they are almost rabidly opposed to any government action.

How about environmental issues? To pursue the goal of efficient markets, negative externalities (like pollution) must be eliminated. Taxing certain market activities (those producing negative externalities) therefore increases overall wealth. No luck here: Republicans have utter contempt for the EPA and oppose all environmental policy.

In all three cases, Republicans oppose policies that are instrumental to freedom and free markets. Why? Because they involve government action. Republican opposition to government clearly developed as a policy principle instrumental to enhancing freedom and market efficiency, but it appears now to carry more weight than any other normative belief. Put it this way: in a zero-sum situation pitting the ideals of freedom and market efficiency against the policy of opposing government action, ideals lose every time. This terrifyingly simplistic governing philosophy is really scary, and needs to be stopped. But I'm not optimistic. The Republican Party has a new final goal, one that's simple, requires no instrumental thinking, and is allergic to complex analysis. Escape to Business while you still can!

The Joy of Sect

The New Yorker recently released its long-awaited massive article profiling esteemed Hollywood director Paul Haggis and the bizzaro-world of Scientology. Among the juicy revelations: the FBI is investigating the nascent religion for human trafficking abuses, John Travolta healed Marlon Brando with only his hands, and Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, is an all-around creepy guy.

If you want to learn more about Scientology's metaphysical dogma, check out South Park's excoriating depiction of their origin story. It's excoriating because it's basically a sincere representation of the official doctrine. Also, the Simpsons episode The Joy of Sect is a fantastic glimpse into the dangers of totalitarian religious organizations, i.e. cults.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Business Logic of Sustainability

A fascinating talk by Interface carpet company CEO Ray Anderson:

A good profile of Mr. Anderson here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Power Players: Atul Gawande

Medicine is a curiously antiquated discipline. While the information revolution continues to transform nearly every field of knowledge, the realm of medicine remains largely set in its ways. That we finally have an outspoken physician-intellectual willing to confront this uncomfortable fact in the form of Atul Gawande causes me a great deal of internal dissonance.

Gawande--a surgeon, professor, and author based in Boston--is unequivocally providing a great service to the public and to policymakers by bringing his personal experience and creativity to bear on this important issue. But the other, more thoughtful side of me weeps at the simple fact of his existence and what it implies about the contemporary world of medicine.

Although a regular contributor to the New Yorker Magazine on many health-policy issues, Gawande is probably best known for his most recent book, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right. In it, Gawande argues that the mundane checklist can be a powerful tool for simplifying the complexity of the world and, in the context of medical procedures, save lives. Checklists ensure that mundane but critical details (like hand-washing) don't get overlooked and that coordination occurs between stakeholders. [watch Atul Gawande describe the idea here].

Using a checklist in all medical procedures certainly seems like a good idea, and the praise heaped on Gawande's book is certainly well-deserved. But... a checklist? Really? That's the exciting, cutting-edge macro-trend sweeping the world of medicine!? Clearly there's more to this story than just a simple checklist.

Most economic sectors are rapidly shifting to computer-aided quantitative and statistical analysis as a method for generating knowledge. This replaces the old intuitive, experiential forms of knowledge (e.g. the venerable "expert", with decades of trial-and-error wisdom) that were unreliable. A while back, the cold statistical logic of randomized trials stripped physicians of their power to discover which solutions work and which ones don't. Increasingly, diagnosing medical problems is a job for computer algorithms. Yet, in many vital areas of medicine, such as surgery, this change hasn't happened. Physicians' individual intuition still holds holds tremendous clout. In this context, Gawande's checklist is simply another mechanism through which rigorous, data-driven knowledge is replacing experiential expertise.

Gawande's willingness to critically examine his own organizations and institutions is refreshing. Although medicine is at the back of the pack in eschewing unreliable experiential expertise, it's headed in the right direction. Now law on the other hand...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One Of These Things Is Just Like The Other

The Daily Show recently did a bit making fun of this guy, comparing his appearance to this cartoon character. Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is, admittedly, a funny-looking fella. But Mr. Stewart's joke was off the mark. Although better than other comparisons I've seen (seriously, some just don't make sense), this one really takes the cake.

Quote of the Week

"There is a long history of public discussion across the world. Even the all-conquering Alexander was treated to a good example of public criticism as he roamed around in northwest India around 325 B.C.  When Alexander asked a group of Jain philosophers why they were neglecting to pay any attention to the great conqueror (Alexander was clearly disappointed by these Indian philosophers' lack of interest in him), he received the following forceful reply:
'King Alexander, every man can posses only so much of the earth's surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, traveling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others! . . . You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you.' "

From Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen (who quotes from Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography by Peter Green)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Thinking-Man's Shooter (continued)

Watch this intense gameplay video from the newest BioShock game, would you kindly? The third installment of the series, BioShock Infinite shares several obvious symmetries with the previous two games. Yet the stunning originality and intellectual brilliance that characterized the original have clearly returned in this immersive, politically-charged first-person shooter.

As I've previously noted, BioShock 2 disappointed due to its much-too-obvious theme of collectivism. The original BioShock, although terrifyingly beautiful and technically superb, really impacted me because of its path-breaking focus on extreme libertarianism gone hellishly awry. The core identity of the BioShock series is a complex plot based on a political philosophic concept. Selecting a theme for the third game was always going to be challenging because the concepts in the first two games were drawn from a single philosophical idea, namely the libertarian-collectivist political spectrum. BioShock Infinite necessarily had to blaze a new trail by establishing a fresh political theme.

And they've done it: tea-party conservatism applied to its logical end. Our hero journeys through the floating city Columbia, a hellish amalgamation of jingoism, racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, theocracy, originalism, exceptionalism, homophobia, and gun-obsessed militia culture. In keeping with the series' stylistic trends, clever visual flourishes abound (this time in the form of political campaign posters, rather than business advertisements) and a strong architectural theme exists (early 1900s America instead of 1960s art deco). As before, a heavy steampunk influence really spices everything up.

Another important observation is the introduction of a new symmetry in the series. The first two games were set in a dark, underwater city. In Infinite, we explore a bright, floating city kept aloft by dirigibles, with multiple structures interconnected through a network of rails. This polarity of below-ground and above-ground fantasy is intellectually rewarding, further testifying to the creativity and depth of the BioShock series. Can't wait!

Prediction: if the series continues its political symmetry thing, we'll be in for a real treat with BioShock 4. Think about it--what's the logical opposite of tea-party conservatism? Environmentalism, multiculturalism, redistributionism, appeasement, moral relativism, etc. What the extreme logical extension of liberal democracy is, I'm not sure, but crafting a dystopian vision from these colorful ingredients sounds. . . fruitful. Think Bioshock 4: The End of History and the Last Man.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Republican Rejig

The Republican party in the House of Representatives is undergoing some interesting changes, as newly-elected ultra-conservative lawmakers exert their influence. Establishment Republicans (including the House  leadership) proposed $30 billion in cuts for a stopgap seven-month budget; after a public fuss by tea party conservatives, this figure was pumped up to a whopping $100 billion. An important point: those cuts exclude non-discretionary spending (like Medicare and Social Security) and defense, which leaves a narrow segment of government spending that encompasses many low-budget, high-impact programs.

Republicans, by focusing on such a small part of total federal spending, reveal their cynicism. Instead of genuinely tackling our fiscal problems (by cutting defense, reforming tax policy, and confronting entitlements), they are using the language of deficit reduction to advance a purely ideological agenda. If Republicans were serious about fiscal reform, would eviscerating the EPA, eliminating Americorps, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and high-speed rail construction really be a top priority?

When the freshman Republicans arrived in Washington, I was both mortified and hopeful. Although morally impoverished in many policy areas (such as addressing inequality), their philosophical pureness gave me hope that some structural fiscal problems might finally be tackled with intellectually honest solutions. Unfortunately what happened was that the Republican leadership acquiesced to the politically digestible demands, but turned tail and ran when it came to confronting the more challenging issues of defense, entitlements, and taxes. This may have been a shrewd move politically, but such cowardice on the part of House leadership strips the ultra-conservatives of their one redeeming quality. Good thing they didn't get the Senate.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Patent Pending: The Toolbox

Everyone knows animal crackers--those fun little cookies shaped like various circus animals that come in a box designed to look like a circus cart. A snack manufacturer could make a successful new product by attempting variants on the animal cracker theme. Picture this: the "toolbox," an exciting assortment of small cookies shaped like various common tools (hammer, drill, hard hat etc.) and sold in a paper box designed to resemble a generic toolbox (or tool belt, for that matter).

Animal crackers provided young kids with a great opportunity to learn names of animals while having fun and consuming calories. If the US government can't get past its institutional sclerosis on issues ranging from climate change to inequality, teaching kids about hand tools can't start soon enough.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


There's been a lot of buzz lately about the startling discovery by NASA's Kepler orbital observatory of six new extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) orbiting a single star. Further tentative results suggests evidence for over a thousand more exoplanets. Although this type of discovery inevitably spurs talk of aliens and the search for extraterrestrial life, exoplanets are most valuable for what they can tell us about Earth and our own biological origins. Up until now, all of our science (perhaps excluding physics and chemistry) has been based in observational evidence from the only location we've ever had access to: the Earth. The emerging field of comparative planetology unleashes the power of comparative analysis on our most vexing scientific questions: where did we come from? How common is life? How unique is our own geologic and chemical situation? Access to many diverse exoplanets allows us to control for variables in a way that was previously impossible, opening up new avenues for scientific inquiry.

The future of exoplanet science will be a long, gradual process, but investments in deep-space science should be a global priority for several reasons. The long-term survival of the human race crucially depends on migrating into space in order to establish resilience against catastrophic risk; inhabiting only one spaceship (the Earth) puts all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. Secondly, comparative planetology and deep-space inquiry will have spill-over effects in other areas of science (such as geology and biology) that will generate concrete benefits here on Earth. Thirdly, the sci-fi nature of exo-science will surely awe a new generation of youngsters, creating interest in science and re-establishing NASA's unique position as a government entity with vast cultural influence. Inspiration matters. Finally, scientifically demonstrating the insignificance of Earth and human existence will aid in a re-alignment of policy priorities on a global level: establishing a species-wide identity will assist in better risk-management and decisionmaking in issues varying from global climate change and ecological destruction to catastrophic risk mitigation.

Carl Sagan once said, "the universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent." Perhaps so, but the knowledge and promise contained within the vastness of space is undoubtably a positive resource. The fact is this: if the human race has a future, it lies in space. Let's get started.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Demise of the Many-Sided Politician

In Identity and Violence, Nobel Prize-winning polymath Amartya Sen argues that a major source of violence in the world is the illusory belief that individuals belong to a single, over-arching identity. In fact, Sen contends, individuals have many identities (race, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, religious affiliation, job, vegetarian, etc.) that are used in different contexts, and which may or may not conflict. Problems arise when people are placed (either by themselves or by others) into a single category, reducing "multidimensional human beings into one-dimensional creatures". Compromise and coalition-building become much more difficult in a one-dimensional world, facilitating friction and violence.

A classic example of this fallacy is Samuel Huntington's famous "Clash of Civilizations" thesis, or more recently, the premise that the U.S. is at war with Islam. Yet even arguments opposing such outright idiocy often fall prey to the same corrosive reductionism. To say that "the true nature of Islam is moderate and thus should help us fight terrorism" is faulty; Islam contains an internal fractal diversity of many unique identities, including radical militancy.
"The question we have to ask is not whether Islam (or Hinduism or Christianity) is a peace-loving religion or a combative one . . ., but how a religious Muslim (or Hindu or Christian) may combine his or her religious beliefs or practices with other features of personal identity and other commitments and values (such as attitudes to peace and war)."
Humans have the profound ability to choose their plural identities, even though choice is sometimes constrained by context and malfeasance. The illusion that individuals have only a single identity is frequently exploited by sectarians for the purpose of confrontation and galvanization.

Applying this analysis to the current state of political dysfunction in the U.S., we find that the problem is not an over-subscribed affiliation to any party or philosophy. Rather, it is party-identity as the all-consuming, over-arching partitioning that eliminates any other identities (region, state, gender, previous occupation, etc.). The solution is not "moderation" in our politicians and public, but rather the realization and promotion of other distinct identities and dimensions of value. Much of our legislative sclerosis is fundamentally a coalition-building problem, and thus the encouragement of plural identities among politicians, perhaps through institutional reforms, would surely enhance the fitness and dynamism of our government.

Critique of Capitalism

A fascinating argument by a Marxist political philosopher:

The section on growth (in part 2) is particularly interesting, and is a decent example of a steady-state (or de-growth) critique of capitalism. Psychology and education are brought in to great effect. Economic life has such all-pervasive reach nowadays (everything is defined in its terms), and its strange to see it put back in its box, so to speak, by defining it in such a discrete way (referring to "capitalists", for example). It's either old-fashioned, or healthy. Maybe both.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Power Player: Donald Saari

University of California Irvine mathematician Donald Saari is somewhat of a rockstar in the world of social choice theory, a field of mathematically rigorous political science concerned with the aggregation of individual preferences. The most common application of social choice theory is in the study of voting systems. I'm posting an utterly fascinating lecture by Donald Saari (a version of which I attended a few years back) that is a pretty accessible introduction to the field. Check it out here.

I'm on record as supporting the Borda Count, an alternative voting system that I believe is superior to our current plurality-rule regime. Although the Borda Count is not without flaws, it more accurately reflects the will of the voters. Lurking biases within the most critical mechanism of our democracy are too important for us to ignore.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Neologism Watch: Mesoeconomics

The field of microeconomics deals with buyers and sellers, while macroeconomics studies aggregate supply and demand. But what about economic activity between levels? 'Mesoeconomics' seems to be a vaguely-defined, catch-all term for the analysis of structures lying in this middle-ground.

There appears to be much confusion about which economics sub-fields fall within mesoeconomics. Game theory is often categorized as mesoeconomic, yet economics can no more claim game theory as its own than it can statistics or differential calculus; these are methods, and by convention academic disciplines are defined by the topic of study, not the tool.

Two fields that fit my conception of mesoeconomics are organizational economics and urban economics. Although concerned with different things (firms and location, respectively), both share the interesting quality of studying the threshold between individual actors and collective market action. Let me explain.

Organizational economics studies the threshold between firms and markets: why does some economic activity occur within a firm, and some occur between firms, in markets? Similarly, urban economics studies the threshold of urban agglomerations: why do some firms choose to locate within a city, while others don't? Why do some cities grow, and others shrink? These 'threshold' questions, tackling mechanisms through which small translates into large, are at the core of mesoeconomics.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's The Opposite Of Catastrophe?

Discover Magazine is out with a fascinating article about the current state of nuclear fusion energy research. Generating energy via nuclear fusion is seen as a holy grail for the human race--it produces no radioactivity or carbon emissions, and is fueled by hydrogen extracted from seawater. Unfortunately, the technology is about 20 years away, and has been for about 50 years.

I recently finished Catastrophe: Risk and Response by Richard Posner, a book about high-impact, low-probability events and their treatment within governing institutions. While Posner focuses only on bad, "catastrophic" events like bioterrorism and asteroid collisions, many high-impact, low-probability events are beneficial. An unexpected research breakthrough, say, in the field of nuclear fusion, could cause untold global benefits. For lack of a better word, we can call these beneficial, improbable events positive black swans.

Just as our governing institutions are ill-suited for dealing with catastrophic events, so too are they incapable of properly assessing the rewards of positive black swans. Our political and policy structures abhor uncertainty, and greatly discount future costs and benefits. This results in over-exposure to catastrophic risks and under-exposure to positive black swans. Policy and funding priorities more influenced by risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis, and expected utility calculations could supply a corrective.

Question: What is a better name for beneficial high-impact, low-probability occurrences? I can only think of 'miracle,' which is a somewhat religiously loaded term. This macro-concept is simply begging for a cleverly-titled non-fiction book to be written about it. Somebody get me Malcolm Gladwell's phone number...