We are launching our Christmas reading list today. Our ‘top six’ is the product of a lot of reading and some debate in the Economics Team. The list aims to offer a thought-provoking and enjoyable break from the rigours of Christmas. All are available free and online. You can save these articles on your smartphone's or tablet's reading list. To print any use the print icons, where available, on the webpages to ensure the whole article comes out.
Humans seem to be disagreeing more about the big issues of the day and becoming more intolerant of others’ opinions. Why are we becoming increasingly uncomfortable with views that differ from our own? This thought-provoking speech by New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, examines the dying art of disagreement (10 pages).
The Monday Briefing recently mentioned journalist and economist Tim Harford’s search for the 51st thing that made the modern economy. The Briefing has also made the case for what we call prosaic innovation, the everyday, incremental changes, often low tech in nature, which shape our lives. Tim’s recent blog underscores this point, arguing that we should pay as much attention to cheap and humble technologies as to the most sophisticated (6 pages).
Most of us would think it worthwhile to pay a small fee to find the right long-term partner. Yet many dating apps struggle to get users to pay for premium features which increase the probability of finding a good match. Humans seem to be quite bad at valuing such long term gains (3 pages).
How did the sandwich consume Britain? This article looks at how two pieces of bread and a filler have transformed how we eat and the UK’s so-called “food-to-go” market. This fascinating history also looks at what could be next for the £8bn a year UK sandwich industry (14 pages).
Smartphone apps and newsfeeds are designed to constantly grab and retain our attention. We are less focused than ever, with one study finding that we are distracted nearly 50% of the time. Might this crisis of attention be one piece of the productivity puzzle? (5 pages).
Get your ducks in a row. Feed it back. Deep dive. How is it that the workplace became awash with gobbledegook and what is the cost of the tidal wave of management-speak? (8 pages).
PS: A couple of weeks ago we wrote a Monday Briefing on the future of the EU. Last week, the European Commission presented proposals on deepening the European Monetary Union. Their big idea is to transform the European Stability Mechanism - the fund established in 2012 to lend to governments - into a European Monetary Fund, akin to the long-established International Monetary Fund. Controversially, the new EMF would largely take decisions by majority votes. This would clip the power of Germany which has been the EU’s staunchest supporter of deficit reduction. The Commission also proposed that the EU should have its own economic and finance minister. European leaders, minus the UK, will discuss the plans at a summit next week, but little progress is expected in the absence of a new German government.
PPS: Nine- and 10-year-olds in England came eighth in a set of international reading exams carried out as part of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. Out of the 50 participating countries Russia came first, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong and the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland was in sixth place. The improvement in England’s ranking has been heralded as evidence of the effectiveness of the government’s educational reforms, including an increased emphasis on phonics. The steep increases in rankings for several countries, including England and Northern Ireland, offers a heartening demonstration of governments ability to improve educational outcomes.