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54 minutes | Jan 17, 2022
Nicholas Christakis: Understanding the Genetics of Social Networks
Professor Christakis is the Sterling Professor of Natural and Social Science at Yale University. His research is focused on understanding social networks through their biological and evolutionary determinants, which encompasses studying a broad range of topics from epidemiology and contagion to human behavior and psychology. Professor Christakis has been recognized for his contributions to the field of sociology, was named a member of the Time 100, and has published many articles and several renowned books relating to epidemiology and evolutionary genetics. In addition to his research, Professor Christakis has practiced medicine in the field of palliative care for many years and continues to advocate for academic freedom and free speech on college campuses. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Host: Neal Reddy Editor: Marko Petrovic
48 minutes | Jan 12, 2022
Lord Mervyn King: Radical Uncertainty
Lord Mervyn King is a professor of economics and law at the NYU Stern School of Business and the School of Law, and the former governor of the Bank of England. He served as Governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of its Monetary Policy Committee from 2003 to 2013. Lord King was knighted (GBE) in 2011, made a life peer in 2013, and appointed by the Queen a Knight of the Garter in 2014. Lord King’s most recent book, Radical Uncertainty, co-authored with John Kay, examines rationality, decision making under uncertainty, and the flaws with modern economic thinking. The book offers a powerful critique of the current state of economic scholarship and policymaking, arguing that the field of economics has developed an overreliance on fundamentally flawed models as well as misconceptions about risk and uncertainty. In this episode, we discuss Radical Uncertainty, touching on Lord King’s motivations in writing the book, its core ideas, and the implications of his critique on the future of economic policymaking. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Host: Sam Lee Editor: Marko Petrovic
44 minutes | Jan 3, 2022
Gregory Zuckerman: A Shot to Save the World
Gregory Zuckerman is a nonfiction author and special writer at The Wall Street Journal. Before joining the Journal, Zuckerman was managing editor of Mergers and Acquisitions Reports, a trade publication of Investment Dealers’ Digest, and the New York Post as a media reporter. At the Journal, Zuckerman is an investigative reporter covering business and investing topics. He is a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award, the highest honor in business journalism. He regularly appears on CNBC, Fox News, Yahoo Finance, Bloomberg Television, and more. Zuckerman’s works include The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution, The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, and his latest book, A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine, covering mRNA vaccine development. A Shot to Save the World was longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. In this episode, we hit a wide range of topics, starting with how Mr. Zuckerman wrote his book, and his experiences with the characters he writes about. We then discuss public policy and financing, and how the vaccine development process can be critiqued and updated. Finally, we talk about societal perception of science, and how it should change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine development process. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Hosts: Sullivan Meyer and Neal Reddy Design: Ryan Vuono Editor: Marko Petrovic
58 minutes | Nov 24, 2021
Sandro Galea: The Contagion Next Time
Professor Sandro Galea is a physician and epidemiologist who is dean and Robert A. Knox Professor at Boston University School of Public Health. His research is centered on the social factors that influence health and trauma, and his work is highly cited in the field of public health. Some of his most notable work relates to the ramifications of mass trauma after natural disasters and catastrophes, which his latest book, The Contagion Next Time addresses as it confronts the pivotal moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview, we start by discussing the concept of health itself. What qualifies as health? Are we too limited in our effort to make society healthier? We then move to Professor Galea’s scientific and moral critiques of public policy actions that according to him impact health negatively, from budgetary decisions to international relations. Despite Professor Galea’s critiques of public health policy, we end the interview on an optimistic note— Professor Galea observes that we are in an unprecedented position in history with regards to the medicine and wealth of our society, and with such tools in disposal, it is important to steer clear of pessimism.
157 minutes | Sep 10, 2021
Tiger’s Last Interview - Prema Gauranga Das: Satsang on the Ganges and the Pursuit of Absolute Truth
This interview marks my last interview as the host of Policy Punchline. I will soon release another recording giving you an update about Policy Punchline’s future, but for now I just want to present to you the following conversation with Prema Gauranga Das. Over the last three years with Policy Punchline, I’ve interviewed more than 150 guests, mostly public intellectuals, policy makers, journalists, investors… but this is my only interview with a monk – a Hindu monk. Premji has been a resident monk at Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Temple in Mumbai with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (also known as ISKCON) for the last 20 years. Like many of his peers, Premji completed his Bachelors degree in engineering from the University of Pune, a top university in India, and subsequently had a 4-year stint at India’s largest auto manufacturing company. But he quit his job to become a monk and to explore a more fulfilling and purposeful lifestyle, after being inspired by the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and His Holiness Radhanath Swami. Currently he is one of the research and implementation leads for ISKCON’s flagship project, the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, and is compiling his research on the Bhagavata Cosmology. I conducted the interview in the winter of 2019, right before Covid hit the world. I went on a yoga and meditation trip to India with Princeton University’s Office of Religion Life, led by two fantastic mentors, Vineet and Angela, with a group of 15 students. We traveled for a month during Christmas vacation, visiting yoga institutes, temples, ashrams, and cultural sites. We were accompanied by Premji, who helped plan our trip and guide us through the country, and through many conversations he gradually became an important mentor. I was truly fortunate to have met Premji. He answered my questions on the Hindu faith, life, and my confusion about my own path forward. He was almost like a beacon of light, using simple principles to help me reason through some of the most difficult philosophical and religious questions that had puzzled me over the years: - Should we be pessimistic in light of the world’s unending sufferings? - Have we made progress as a humanity? - How flexible can one be with their spiritual and religious faiths? - What does it mean to be guided by God? Does one have to be guided by God or some form of greater power? - How do we control our desires? What does it mean to be happy? - What is one’s destiny and how do we discover our true calling? … Premji and I recorded this conversation towards the end of my trip. We were in Rishikesh, a city on the Ganges river and home to the famous Beatles Ashram. Overseeing sunset on the foothills of the Himalayas, we sat along the Ganges river and chatted for three hours. Hence we named the episode “Satsang on the Ganges,” where the word “Satsang” refers to the idea of group discussions or informal gatherings in hope to better understand the Vedic philosophy –– or, in essence, together pursuing the Absolute Truth. It’s never my goal to try to change people’s lives via this podcast –– that would be too condescending to think that I should do that –– but I would be honored if the following interview could open a small window for you to explore some of these ideas. You may reach out to Premji by emailing him at email@example.com. You may learn more about ISKCON via https://www.iskcon.org/ and https://iskconchowpatty.com/.
60 minutes | Aug 16, 2021
Anders Sandberg: Radical Views of Utility and Evaluating Risk
Dr. Anders Sandberg is a James Martin Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. He is a senior research fellow on the ERC UnPrEDICT Programme, and a research associate to the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics. He holds a PhD in computational neuroscience from Stockholm University, and his research focuses on existential risks and long-term societal and ethical facets of new technology regarding human enhancement. Existential risks are risks that deal with the end of something — in this case, the end of humanity and Earth-originating intelligent life. As Prof. Sandberg explains, the most dire of risks lead to a lot of interesting implications and there are many interesting links that bridge different risks. Understanding those linkages are interesting and useful in discovering what the risks are, and also what we can do about it. Risks are broadly classified into anthropogenic (in this sense, self-inflicted) and external (natural). In this episode of Policy Punchline, we discuss both types of risks, and why we should really care. After all, there is a low probability of this kind of existential risk occurring in our lifetime, and we have a fairly resilient infrastructure already in place. As Prof. Sandberg points out, “you can motivate the badness of existential risk in quite a lot of ways, both consequentialist and non-consequentialist”. The conversation then turns to utilitarianism and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the thought process and awareness of the field. Animal welfare (including humans) is brought up, and also the subject of human enhancement. Technological enhancements seem inevitable in the future, and, going back to anthropogenic risks, how this affects the future of humanity is a nuanced topic. We hope you enjoy listening to an episode on existential risks and utility, a subject that concerns all of us. The pandemic has brought increased attention to how vulnerable humans could actually be to unforeseen threats to our existence, and we hope this interview provokes thought with regards to the future of humanity.
81 minutes | Jul 29, 2021
Richard V. Spencer: Integrated Naval Force, Eddie Gallagher, and the Philosophy of War
Richard V. Spencer served as the 76th United States Secretary of the Navy from 2017 to 2019. He also briefly served as Acting Secretary of Defense and Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2019. Sec. Spencer’s term as the Navy Secretary was terminated on November 24, 2019, when Secretary of Defense Mark Esper requested his resignation over his handling of the Eddie Gallagher case. Sec. Spencer stated in the resignation letter that he “cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” We discuss this case in this interview, as well as the state of the Navy, competition with other military powers, investment in human capital and frontier military tech, and the philosophy of war.
64 minutes | Jul 26, 2021
Jamil El-Imad: Connecting Our Brains to the World
Dr. Jamil El-Imad is the CEO of The Brain Forum, a neuroscience, brain-computer interface (BCI), and virtual reality (VR) research foundation in Switzerland, as well as the co-founder of NeuroPro, a Swiss-based Digital Health Solutions company that leverage the latest advances in computer science and digital technology to create new and improved tools that support researchers, clinicians, and innovators in pushing the boundaries of brain science and its applications. He is also an honorary research fellow at Imperial College London, and a former IBM software engineer. His key interests include BCI, VR, brain signal analyses, and big data, all of which we delve into in this interview. Having been out for many years now, most people are probably familiar with virtual reality technology. However, brain-computer interfaces (also known as a neural-control interface), bridges the gap between our mind and a machine by converting brain signals into commands that can be interpreted by a computer, resulting in the desired action. The potential for this technology is profound and could be applied in myriad fields. In “Connecting Our Brains to the World”, we discuss Dr. El-Imad’s decision to transition from software engineering to a neuroscience focus. Neuroscience is a fascinating field in which research can be taken in many directions. We inquire about Dr. El-Imad’s interest in deep learning (ex. epilepsy prediction), and the limiting factors in brain-computer interactions. Further, the topic of healthcare is explored in some depth, in particular the lag in the healthcare industry’s adoption of seemingly very useful tools and the administrative, logistical, and technological hurdles cutting-edge interfacing technology faces before becoming mainstream. Continuing on this topic, the inequities between the rich and the poor are also explored, as evidenced by the pandemic. In a similar vein, virtual reality also holds promise in the healthcare industry; for example, in the treatment of phobias. We ask our guest what he thinks the development of VR will look like in the future, including the democratization and commercialization of the technology as well as the value from an entertainment standpoint. We hope you enjoy this episode listening to an episode on the human connection to the machine, and that it provokes deeper thought and discussion on what is possible in this realm of neuroscience.
65 minutes | Jul 15, 2021
Paul Haaga Returns: A Deep Dive Into Facebook Oversight Board and Deplatforming Trump
Paul G. Haaga Jr. is the former acting CEO of NPR, the former chairman and director of Capital Research and Management Company, and the Chairperson of the Facebook Oversight Board Trust. In this episode, we welcome back Mr. Haaga Jr. to Policy Punchline to discuss Facebook's recent decision on deplatforming former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
94 minutes | Jul 12, 2021
Paul Haaga on Leading NPR and the Threats to Public and Local Journalism
Paul G. Haaga Jr. is the former acting CEO of NPR, the former chairman and director of Capital Research and Management Company, and the Chairperson of the Facebook Oversight Board Trust.
122 minutes | Jul 5, 2021
Atif Mian: Fixing the Imbalance of Global Macrofinance
My guest today is someone of great personal significance to me. He is my senior thesis advisor and one of the most important mentors in my student career. Atif Mian is the John H. Laporte, Jr. Class of 1967 Professor of Economics, Public Policy and Finance at Princeton University, and the Director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance, which has graciously supported this podcast since day one. Prof. Mian studies the connections between finance and the macroeconomy, and his book House of Debt became an instant international bestseller when it was published in 2014 and kicked off a critical line of research related to debt forgiveness and risk-sharing mechanisms. He is the first person of Pakistani origin to rank among the top 25 young economists of the world by the IMF.
88 minutes | Jun 28, 2021
Matt Levine: King of *The* Financial Newsletter
Matt Levine writes the popular daily newsletter “Money Stuff” on Bloomberg Opinion that has over 150,000 subscribers and a “cult-like” following on Wall Street and beyond. He is widely regarded as one of the most iconic, witty, and sophisticated financial writers of our age. Before Bloomberg, Matt was an editor of Dealbreaker, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and a high school Latin teacher. He holds a heroic status especially amongst college economics majors, and he in fact inspired Tiger to start writing his newsletter on Substack.
101 minutes | Jun 24, 2021
Alex Tabarrok: Fractional Dosing Vaccine, Libertarianism in COVID, and the Great Tech Stagnation
Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center and a professor of economics at George Mason University. Along with Tyler Cowen, he is the co-author of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution and co-founder of Marginal Revolution University. He is the author of numerous academic papers in the fields of law and economics, criminology, regulatory policy, voting theory and other areas in political economy. He is co-author with Tyler of Modern Principles of Economics, a widely used introductory textbook. He gave a TED talk in 2009. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. It is not an exaggeration to say that he and Tyler Cowen wield an enormous influence over the intellectual discourse today in America, and especially amongst the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
51 minutes | Jun 22, 2021
Ramesh Ponnuru on American Conservatism’s Crossroads
Ramesh Ponnuru is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, senior editor with the National Review, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. A leading conservative thinker and pundit, Ramesh has made numerous appearances on shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation. He is also an alumnus of Princeton, earning a degree in History. In the interview, we discuss a variety of issues relating to the current political landscape and state of partisan politics. We first dive into free speech issues at colleges and universities in the United States— grappling with some of the key considerations that are informing why environments on college campuses are less encouraging for interchange and compromise between ideological groups. Ponnuru argues that the free speech issues on college campuses are not a new problem and have continued to ebb and flow based on larger political movements, pushing back against the catastrophizing done by organizations like Turning Point USA. Ponnuru also explains his thoughts on media environments and the curating of news by social media companies. Because Ponnuru writes so extensively about economic and social issues, we cover his stance on the American family, including his continued advocacy for a child tax credit and overall increased welfare for parents and children. Ponnuru also explains why he believes his pro-life stance is consistent with the Constitution. We move to discuss Ponnuru’s opposition to President Trump, the contention over election security and the threat of delegitimization of the political process, and his thoughts on the infusion of populism and isolationism into the GOP.
54 minutes | Jun 8, 2021
Bridgewater CEO David McCormick: Dalio's Transition, Macro Uncertainty, National Innovation Policy
David McCormick is the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund with over $140 billion in assets under management. David joined Bridgewater in 2009 and was President and Co-CEO before becoming CEO in 2020. Prior to Bridgewater, he was the US Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs in the George W. Bush Administration during the 2008 global financial crisis, and he also had senior roles on the National Security Council and in the Department of Commerce. In this interview, David talks about his personal journey from the Army to the Treasury and Bridgewater; the ten-year leadership transition that he and Ray Dalio had just completed; the challenges he experienced when managing Bridgewater over the years; macro-financial topics such as Bridgewater’s “Monetary Policy 3” framework; and his vision for a “national innovation policy” allowing for more frontier civilian technology to enter the military space. Bridgewater is a place that needs very little introduction, especially as founder Ray Dalio’s bestselling book Principles has become not only a nordstar for corporate managers, but also a household read. David tells us about Bridgewater’s distinct culture of radical transparency, critical thinking, and various other principles established by Dalio and how these principles were put to test during the transition process. David transitioned from Co-CEO to CEO of Bridgewater in 2020, which marked the end of a long leadership transition (Ray had kicked off this “ten-year transition” back in 2010). David recalls that he had taken on various management roles in earlier years as the President of the fund, but initially did not do a very good job. Ray eventually asked him to come back as Co-CEO and later as the sole CEO, and it was a long process with many challenges. We ask David how he plans on maintaining the firm’s distinctive culture and Principles, especially when Ray has departed. David explains that going forward, the members of Bridgewater will continue to do a lot of soul searching and find the best way to combine Ray’s wisdom with new thinking that needs to be integrated into the firm’s DNA. It will not be a static or rigid process, but rather one that is nuanced, dynamic, and collaborative. David speaks quite frankly about the fund’s recent drawdowns and underperformance compared to the broader market. He says that Bridgewater has always bounced back stronger after brief periods of drawdowns and that these difficult moments have only made the fund stronger. In his recent Gilbert Lecture at Princeton, David made two arguments about military innovation today: 1) the “line between civilian technology and military technology is more blurred than ever,” and 2) the military needs to create a culture of experimentation and bring in new entrants, and create the right incentives for people to move up the risk curve. He elaborates on these ideas and proposes his vision for a “national innovation policy.” In light of the rising tension between China and the U.S., should American firms and Western countries at large reconsider their dependence and interconnectedness with China? Ray has frequently spoken about Asia being the new frontier for investments given the Western developed world now suffers from historically low interest rates and comparatively lower economic growth. Bridgewater has also recently opened new offices in China and raised new funds from local investors. Why is Bridgewater so active in China when the geopolitical risks and ideological division are at an all-time high? We ask David whether he is concerned about Bridgewater’s potential exposure to geopolitical risks. Lastly, David explains why he believes the U.S. is now at an inflection point – what the U.S. does next will be very important for the future of America’s role in the world. What does he think this role should be? And is David more optimistic or pessimistic in the country’s ability to confront these challenges?
57 minutes | Jun 7, 2021
John Ikenberry - A World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crises of Global Order
Professor Ikenberry is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University in the Department of Politics and the School of Public and International Affairs. He is one of the most notable scholars in the entire field of international relations, with an expansive body of work spanning countless books, journals, essays, working at think tanks, advisory groups, and more. In this interview, Princeton freshmen Ryan Vuono and Neal Reddy discuss with Professor Ikenberry the theory of liberal internationalism, lessons from the history of international orders, and the future of the liberal international framework. Considering that Professor Ikenberry is a leading proponent of the liberal internationalist school of thought within international relations, we start off the interview asking the basic questions for our listeners: what is liberal internationalism, and what does Professor Ikenberry’s vision of liberal internationalism look for today’s international climate. We move to discuss some of the themes of the book-- the fact that liberal internationalism is fluid in nature, which Professor Ikenberry acknowledges can serve to be both beneficial and deceptive, in that liberal internationalist governments have historically become involved in colonial and imperialist exploitation of the Global South under the guise of free trade. Ikenberry makes clear that while liberal internationalism has become a guise for neoliberal economics, fundamentally it should be a form of international relations that seeks to promote welfare as a more general idea, rather than optimizing economic output. In the interview, we also reflect on the geopolitical trends since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. While many scholars predicted a United States-led global hegemony and an indefinite stasis of world politics, we’ve seen the rise of populist, both left and right, as a form of backlash to neoliberalism and globalization. Professor Ikenberry sees the recent trends as a rebuke to the idea of realist international relations theory, of which he is a critic. However, he also concedes that the overly liberalized trade that occurred in the 1990s and 2000s that fomented these political movements was highly ignorant of what he sees as prerequisites for liberal internationalism-- a country’s ability to ensure the social welfare of its citizens. Without this credibility, liberal internationalism has lost its credibility among many voters worldwide, but Professor Ikenberry is hopeful that with a return to the roots of social democracy as is occurring in the United States after the COVID-19 pandemic, liberal internationalism can return and the world, in his mind, will be better for it.
89 minutes | May 24, 2021
The Path to Net-Zero: Modular Nuke, Electric Vehicle, and Patient Capital in Green Tech
William Bohnett is the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. He served from 2009-2018 as a member of the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex. Bill sits on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, a non-partisan NGO working on national competitiveness issues, and is a Board Member of American Forests, the nation’s oldest conservation organization. Mr. Bohnett is the President of Whitecap Investments, a private investment firm, and special advisor to Baroda Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. This interview was conducted by Princeton freshman Sullivan Meyer and senior Tiger Gao. We start by briefly discussing Mr. Bohnett’s educational background at Princeton and career path. He cites the interdisciplinary education he received at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs as a huge aid to his career, especially as a corporate lawyer. Going off of that experience, we address the green financial market, especially the need to mobilize private capital to address the climate crisis. Bohnett does believe that the private sector requires some motivation to move capital from the public sector, but he views the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan as a strong start. Fascinatingly, he views the current bubble amassing around green technology as quite analogous to the “Dot Com” bubble of 1999. He notes, however, that the companies that weathered that bubble—as well as the companies that formed after it, like Google—went on to build the future. He encourages us to “have them courage to look through” the crash “that’s coming.” We then move on to address upcoming green technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and small- and medium-sized nuclear reactors (SMRs). Bohnett sees both as integral to the climate future, so we discussed the intricacies of both technologies with him. For instance: How will the US adapt to its dependence on Chinese lithium mining? Will the public become more accepting of SMRs than large nuclear reactors? When asked about whether these technologies will dominate the transportation and energy industries of the future, Bohnett stresses an inclusive approach to the green transition. For instance, a green transportation industry will require both mass transit and EVs. Similarly, a future energy market will need SMRs, large reactors, and renewable energy. Above all, he expresses confidence that private capital and the market will properly assess what technologies are needed, and in what amount they are needed. This conversation is far-ranging, touching on many other aspects of Mr. Bohnett’s career. For instance, we discuss green technologies in relation to China, reflecting his position with the Council of Competitiveness. We address the importance of tree- and green space-restoration, based on his experience with American Forests. We explore the significance of public institutions in relation to the Smithsonian Institution. Finally, Mr. Bohnett offers his punchline: The climate crisis is a huge, incredibly nuanced challenge facing all aspects of modern life. Accordingly, no one technology, policy, or business is a silver bullet to address the climate crisis. There is no silver bullet, but there is an oncoming wave of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies coming from all corners of the global economy. We should have hope.
100 minutes | May 7, 2021
Matt Weinberg: A Mechanism Designer’s View on Cryptocurrency, Incentives, Trust, and Human Nature
Matt Weinberg is an assistant professor of Computer Science at Princeton University. His primary research interest is in Algorithmic Mechanism Design: auction design, cryptocurrency, voting systems, and more. In this interview, Prof. Weinberg provides both a detailed overview of mechanism design and its philosophical implications, and he discusses his latest research in the mechanism design of cryptocurrency. We go over the mining process of Bitcoin, the proof of stake innovations that are happening with Ethereum 2.0 and other blockchain projects, why Prof. Weinberg is optimistic about Algorand (a cryptocurrency project founded by Turing Award winner Silvio Micali), and other issues in the crypto space and beyond. One can intuitively interpret mechanism design as the reverse of game theory. Game theory is about what the agents should do given the environment, while mechanism design is about how the environment should be structured in the first place. Prof. Weinberg is a mechanism and algorithm designer. He refines system designs so that they can adapt to more settings over time. The fact that some of these theoretical settings might not model reality perfectly doesn’t bother Prof. Weinberg, as his mission is to narrow in on specific problems and shed light on how we can improve our thinking for them. Prof. Weinberg provides an overview of blockchain economics and computing mechanism? Namely, what is “a mechanism designer’s view on cryptocurrency?” It seems that a central tenet of cryptocurrency is that it removes trust from the financial system. The thinking goes that right now, the value of the currency is built upon trust in the government and banks. With crypto, however, the value of the currency is guaranteed by the very nature of the technology. How is this achieved? And what are the mechanism design issues that arise from this process? It strikes us that the value of crypto and DeFi (Decentralized Finance) is still built upon trust. Instead of trusting the financial system, users have to trust blockchains. We understand why computers and blockchains might theoretically be more trustworthy than centralized financial institutions like banks, but the widespread use of crypto is still predicated on trust, and, as we’ve seen with vaccines, public trust in science is not a guarantee. Why would this be any different for crypto? Blockchain tech is really about "taking away the human component" by empowering smart contracts (essentially apps built on blockchains) and decentralized decision-making mechanisms to guarantee the algorithms run smoothly. Consequently, we will not rely on human and counterparty risks but trust the algorithms. Is this vision a promising one to solve many of the human-centered problems, or in fact just another process that will end up getting muddled by the centralization of human power as shown in Bitcoin mining? Prof. Weinberg also explains the differences between proof of work vs. proof of stake. He talks about why he believes proof of stake and the Ethereum 2.0 future could represent a better future for blockchain mechanisms than the current proof of work mining process.
91 minutes | May 3, 2021
Ben Hunt: Epsilon Theory, Wall Street's Game of Leverage, Forecasting Uncertainty and Narratives
Ben Hunt is the creator of Epsilon Theory and inspiration behind Second Foundation Partners, which he co-founded with Rusty Guinn in June 2018.
72 minutes | Apr 29, 2021
Gas, Green Electricity, and Geopolitics: America in a World of Renewable Energy
Nikos Tsafos is interim director and senior fellow of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He’s researched, written, advised, and consulted extensively on a range of fascinating topics, including natural gas, the geopolitics of energy, the future of mobility, and the global energy transition. He is the author of Beyond Debt: The Greek Crisis In Context, published in 2013, and countless articles, reports, and studies in the leading publications in energy policy and foreign affairs, including for National Bureau of Asian Research, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and the National Interest. We began by exploring the role of energy in the foreign policy of previous administrations, covering the importance of fossil fuel imports in decades past and the Trump’s administration’s hope for fossil fuel exports to play a major role in the U.S. approach to Asia and Europe. As America looks to compete with China and others in the race to build renewables, the federal government can and should offer financial incentives on both the supply and demand sides of production for renewables, but must also make structural changes to physical and legal infrastructure to promote clean electricity. Active industrial policy in the United States -- which is taking shape under the American Jobs Plan -- must recognize that endless funding for strategic sectors can be wasteful, trade can undermine even the most ambitious domestic programs, and repurposing legacy facilities for renewable purposes will be crucial. While Biden’s sweeping proposals for new energy investments have grabbed headlines, there has been another consequential shift in America’s energy policy that has transpired behind the scenes -- the pivot away from natural gas. While there have been no proposals for banning natural gas exports, the administration will certainly look more closely at where American gas is going, and whether it is displacing dirtier energy sources or “locking in” decades of fossil fuel use in place of renewables. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping strategy for investment in infrastructure across Eurasia, is widely seen as Beijing’s foremost geoeconomic initiative, and a major threat to U.S. interests. But at least on the energy front, Mr. Tsafos contended that American policymakers are often too narrow minded about Chinese-backed projects abroad; other factors, including the quality of a project, the engagement of important stakeholders, and the institutions supporting it, often matter more than where the money is coming from. International institutions and relationships between the nations in different stages of development will play a major role in the globe’s approach to climate change, and Mr. Tsafos has important insights on this front as well. He suggested that financial incentives could be provided internationally to support nations that are investing in green energy, a global dialogue on green energy could facilitate global renewable energy investment, and global energy trade agreements will help nations avoid endless trade conflict on climate issues. Preparing the world for climate change extends far beyond the G-20, and Mr. Tsafos offered some lessons from his research on how emerging economies can pursue sustainable pathways to development -- progress in the West on renewables helps spur progress in the developing world, stable political institutions matter for sustainable development, and the tradeoff between economic growth and investment in low-carbon energy is often overestimated. Mr. Tsafos concluded our conversation by recognizing that the climate crisis presents opportunities -- for students who hope to grapple with these challenges, he says “we need your help.”
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