A personal view from Ian Stewart, Deloitte’s Chief Economist in the UK.
We are publishing our annual Christmas reading list today. It offers a break from the rigours of Christmas with an eclectic mix of free, online articles, a podcast and a video. To read later, you can save them on your smartphone’s or tablet’s reading list.
* According to an old French saying, the art of taxation is “to pluck the goose so as to obtain the largest number of feathers with the least hissing”. In this piece, Financial Times columnist Tim Harford looks at how, over the centuries, people have responded to taxation by changing their behaviour and, at times, the architecture of cities. He offers recommendations on how the state could fill its coffers without setting off harmful changes in individual and corporate behaviour.
* By the end of the century, Africa, which accounted for less than one-tenth of the world’s population in 1950, will be home to 40% of humanity. As its population surges, people are flocking to big cities. How African nations, especially in coastal west Africa, manage the fastest urbanisation in human history has implications for global growth, migration and the transition to net zero. This article from The Guardian explores some of the challenges and opportunities, including the construction of vast new infrastructure schemes such as the West African Highway.
* Recent developments in artificial intelligence have created computers that can write essays, compose poems, create new art and write programming code. Former Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith and AI researcher “roon” argue that, much like past innovations, AI will not destroy jobs. Instead they believe it will raise productivity and completely alter the nature of creative and professional occupations such as art, finance, industrial design and law.
* The escalator is a mundane invention that we take for granted, but this Smithsonian article argues that it has shaped modern cities, transforming transport systems, department stores and offices. Today’s escalators are little changed from the original design of the late 19th century, but they continue to spread with urbanisation, their numbers doubling every ten years. As the population density of cities rises, we become ever more dependent on the “moving staircase”.
* Financial innovations and crashes have a long history. This Bloomberg “Odd Lots” podcast features an interview with economic historian Brad DeLong, drawing parallels between past asset price bubbles, especially the South Sea Bubble of the 1700s, and the rise and recent fall of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. DeLong discusses potential risks associated with cryptocurrencies and highlights the benefits of innovation in transforming financial markets.
* This time last year, Wordle, the word-guessing game, took over our mobile phones. It became so popular that it was acquired by The New York Times in January. Most Wordle users have their favourite strategies fine-tuned through experience. This article discusses potential strategies for winning the game using probability and statistics.
* The last decade has seen growing scrutiny of globalisation and its impact on jobs and livelihoods in the West. With the pandemic, we’ve also seen a surge in demand for locally produced goods across the developed world. But how could “localisation” work in practice? In this Financial Times film, the FT’s global business columnist Rana Foroohar, follows the suppliers of apparel-maker American Giant and shows how US businesses and communities can benefit from local supply chains.
* Why did two Hollywood actors, who knew little about football, buy a mid-tier professional club in Wales? And how have they found ownership so far? This GQ article follows Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney through their rollercoaster first season as owners of Wrexham AFC, in which the middling club came tantalisingly close to becoming National League champions and promotion.