Pension funds, endowments, high-net-worth individuals and the like are also trying to figure out how to invest all their money — and along with places like the Bakken and a few emerging markets, Palo Alto seems awfully appealing. A few million in seed funding might turn to billions in an acquisition in just a few years, after all. “Valuations are at extreme levels because you cannot get a decent return on your money doing anything else,” Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures wrote on his blog. “It’s been a good time to be in the V.C. and start-up business, and I think it will continue to be as long as the global economy is weak and rates are low.” In other words, the perks-laden, savior-and-ninja-saturated, TED-talking beast that has seemingly taken over Northern California in recent years might be a byproduct of high corporate profits and Fed policy as much as anything else.

But what happens if and when the normal patterns of the economy reassert themselves? What happens when the easy money gets a bit harder to come by, and firms suddenly need the companies they invest in to turn a profit? I put that question to half a dozen academics and businesspeople, and the general response was a shrug.

If it is a bubble, one thing that sets it apart is its relative dearth of retail investors. The dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and the economic collapse of 2008 still loom large, for investors and executives alike. “In the 1990s, as time went on, skeptics started to see Porsches in their neighbors’ driveways,” said Lise Buyer of the Class V Group, a consultancy for firms looking to go public. “Time beat back the skepticism.” It resulted in a disaster on the Nasdaq and the end of the Clinton boom. But now, she said, there is fresh memory of how badly things can go, and how quickly. For evidence, she pointed to the fact that 10 of the 19 technology companies that went public this year are trading below their offering price. “That isn’t the kind of performance that drives most folks to bet the mortgage money on the next hot wonder company,” she said. “Sanity prevails.”

What about those start-ups raising mountains of cash from investors? The queasy truth is that many of those investors could afford to lose it all. Technology giants — Apple, Facebook and Google, among many others — are raking in cash. They might be overpaying for acquisitions, but there is no reason to think that should damn their bottom lines in the long term. The same goes for the rich individuals funneling money to young companies through venture-capital firms and other vehicles.

Five’s experience of solitary confinement is extreme, but it’s not atypical. His feeling of disconnection from the world, to the point of losing his capacity to make sense of his own identity and existence, raises philosophical questions about the relation between sense perception, sociality, and a meaningful life. Why does prolonged isolation typically corrode a prisoner’s ability to perceive the world and to sustain a meaningful connection with his own existence? The short answer to this question is that we are social beings who rely on our interactions with other people to make sense of things. But what does it mean to exist socially, and what is the precise connection between our relations with others, our perception of the world, and the affirmation of our own existence?

My response to this question is shaped by the philosophical practice of phenomenology. Phenomenology begins with a description of lived experience and reflects on the structures that make this experience possible and meaningful. The main insight of phenomenology is that consciousness is relational. As the German philosopher Edmund Husserl put it at the turn of the 20th century, consciousness is consciousness of something; the mind is not a thing but a relation. Meaning is not ‘located’ in the brain like a message in a mailbox; rather, it emerges through an ever-changing relation between the act of thinking and the objects of thought.


Solitary confinement presents a challenge to my practice of phenomenology, both because I have not had this experience myself, and also because the testimony of survivors suggests that the experience of prolonged isolation is also an unravelling of experience: a deterioration of the senses, a becoming-invisible, an annihilation. If the task of phenomenology is to show how we make sense of the world through lived experience, then what should a phenomenologist make of prisoners’ accounts of a living death that no longer makes sense?

We might be fascinated by cities, but we tend to see them in dichotomous ways. On one hand, they are held to be the key to economic growth and increased prosperity. There is a well-established school of city utopianism as exemplified by what Harvard economist Ed Glaeser calls “the triumph of the cities”. This notion of world cities as nodes in a network of transnational flows of capital, people and ideas is central to the neoliberal agenda.

But there is also a dystopian view of cities (typically associated with sub-Saharan Africa) as being chaotic, and a focus of poverty and violence. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital Kinshasa, with a population of 9 million, is described by Belgian anthropologist Filip De Boeck as “a city that is in and of itself elsewhere, invisible”. In development policy, cities were (and to a degree still are) seen as malevolent, sucking in productive people from rural areas and undermining agricultural production, the basis of economic development.

The reliance on western models of urban planning and containment has resulted in a catastrophic failure to manage the growth of cities in many low- and middle-income countries. Most development policy has lacked a specific urban perspective, with the result that cities have grown haphazardly in the face of irresistible migration and population growth. Urban policy, where it existed at all, has sought membership of the elite of global cities pursuing high-value real estate development and prestige projects while ignoring the needs of the poor, who are an essential component of city economies.

Capitalism - renewal or decline? Laurie Taylor explores the future of our market driven economy. He’s joined by David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Colin Crouch, Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Warwick. Professor Harvey examines the contradictions at the heart of capitalism arguing that it’s far from being the permanent or only way of organising human life. Professor Crouch, conversely, suggests that only Capitalism can provide us with an efficient and innovative economy but it should be re-shaped to better fit a social democratic society.

A coastal desalination plant planned for east of Beijing could provide a large portion of the drinking water for the parched Chinese capital by 2019, the state news media quoted officials as saying on Tuesday. The reports indicated that the government and state enterprises were investing heavily in desalination projects to alleviate a dire water shortage in northern China.

The reports, citing officials who spoke over the weekend and on Monday, said that the proposed plant, to be located in the city of Tangshan in Hebei Province, had already been approved by a provincial development agency. The plan is to complete construction of the plant by 2019 and for it to supply one million tons of fresh water each day, which could account for one-third of the water consumption of Beijing, a city of more than 22 million people, officials said. A headline on an article published by Global Times, a populist state-run newspaper, said, “Seawater to Supply Beijing in 2019.”

The plant would be the core of one of the biggest desalination projects in China. It is the second phase of a desalination project that is run by Aqbewg, a joint venture company formed by Aqualyng, a Norwegian company, and Beijing Enterprises Water Group, which is headquartered in Hong Kong and is a subsidiary of a large state-owned company.


LOS ANGELES:  A city in decline, a future at risk? 

Concerned about growing civic problems, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission recently presented “A Time for Action,” a second scathing report on current metropolitan trends. Presented by a task force of lawyers, developers, labor leaders and former elected officials, the report provided a catalogue of urban failings.

Among the most pressing issues are widespread poverty, job stagnation, huge municipal pension obligations, a struggling port and tourism industry, and paralyzing traffic congestion unlikely to be relieved even with a continuing multibillion-dollar mass-transit initiative. The report’s frank conclusions amounted to an indictment of a city and its culture.

While recognizing a metropolis full of talent and resources, the commision argued that Los Angeles was steadily falling behind other major cities across the globe. “Los Angeles is barely treading water, while the rest of the world is moving forward,” the report said. “We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a city in decline.”

After publication of "A Time for Truth" in December 2013, the release "A Time for Action" in April 2014 proved even more contentious. While the second report suggested a series of relatively modest proposals for governmental administrative reform, what provoked most debate was the general image of Los Angeles as a municipality in decline.

Read the full news account from the New York Times here.

There are at least three approaches to evaluating the role of big philanthropy in ed reform. Understanding how they differ makes for a more effective analysis and stronger arguments.

The first approach focuses on the failure of specific policies pushed by the foundations and the harm they do to teaching and learning. For example, a critique of using value-added modeling to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers would deal with the inherent unreliability of the calculations, the nonsensical use of faulty formulas to measure growth in learning, and the negative consequences of rating teachers with such a flawed tool.

The second approach examines how big philanthropy’s ed-reform activity undermines the democratic control of public education, an institution that is central to a functioning democracy. The questions to ask are these: Has the public’s voice in the governance of public education been strengthened or weakened? Are politicians more or less responsive? Is the press more or less free to inform them?

This approach pinpoints certain types of foundation activity: paying the salaries of high-level personnel to do ed-reform work within government departments; making grants to education departments dependent on specific politicians remaining in office; promoting mayoral control and state control of school districts instead of control by elected school boards; financing scores of ed-reform nonprofits to implement and advocate for the foundations’ pet policies—activity that has undermined the autonomy and creativity of the nonprofit sector in education; funding (and thus influencing) the national professional associations of government officials, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices; and funding media coverage of education.

The third approach examines large private foundations as peculiar and problematic institutions in a democracy. This approach considers big philanthropy in general and uses ed reform as one example of how mega-foundations undermine democratic governance and civil society. The objections to wealthy private corporations dedicated to doing good (as they see it) have remained the same since the early twentieth century when the first mega-foundations were created: they intervene in public life but aren’t accountable to the public; they are privately governed but publicly subsidized by being tax exempt; and in a country where money translates into political power, they reinforce the problem of plutocracy—the exercise of power derived from wealth.

Collectors who buy art in one state but live in another can owe thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of dollars in state “use taxes”: taxes often incurred when someone ships an out-of-state purchase home. But if they lend the recently purchased work first to museums like the Schnitzer, located in a handful of tax-friendly states, the transaction is often tax-free.

Beyond the benefit to museums, this lucrative, little-known tax maneuver has produced a startling pipeline of art moving across the United States as collectors cleverly — and legally — exploit the tax codes.