Some things I read this week: 24/6/18

On the dominance of American education institutions

  • By most popular metrics (number of Nobel laureates produced, largest university endowments, research output), the U.S. education system places top in the world
  • To consider whether this system can be exported, it can be useful to understand its origins
    • The university system emerged in the early 19th century amidst a strong market, weak state and divided church. Colleges at the time had little state funding, relied on student tuition and local elite donors (who reportedly would donate in part to appreciate their property values). This played a pivotal role in the growth of universities around city frontiers as opposed to in their centers. The first college towns were like today’s golf-course developments: grassy territories attracting settlers to buy land.
    • A growing demand for white collar workers in the 20th century, increased research funding brought about by the end of World War II, and the dynamism of localized, independent institutions free from state control has brought about a “costly, consumer-driven, and deeply stratified” system of higher education.

On the extinction risk of bananas

  • Entrepreneurs from Jamaica first planted bananas in the U.S. around 1880, but banana production was plagued by constrictive climate needs and short ripening periods.
  • In addition to progress in refrigeration and transportation, the proliferation of bananas was strongly supported by the standardization of banana production. The “Gros Michel” was selected as the single banana variety and served the banana market well until the 1950s.
  • Unfortunately, a global collapse in the banana trade occurred around this time due to the spread of Panama disease, wiping out entire plantations.
  • The Cavendish banana has since replaced the Gros Michel; however, the banana industry still relies heavily on cultivating a single crop type (a.k.a. “monoculture”), leaving it susceptible to another disease outbreak
  • In many populations, the development of immunity to pests and disease occurs through genetic mutation and variation. Unfortunately, in this case, there is no genetic diversity at all, and therefore the danger applies to the entire banana industry (not to mention soybeans, russet potatoes, soybeans… and coffee)

On hosting the World Cup

  • Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago has expressed their disinterest in hosting any of the 60 games that will be held in the USA when the World Cup comes to North America in 2026.
  • Host cities are also put under high pressure; Chicago would have had to put aside use of Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears) for the two months leading up to the games, subject themselves to an “open-ended” agreement with FIFA, provide extensive tax exemptions, and much more
  • The budget costs of such events are massive – Russia spent somewhere between “$51-70 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and is projected to spend at least $14 billion hosting the current World Cup”
  • Russia’s ROI seems to leave something to be desired. FIFA will get all of the ticket revenue, international broadcasting rights, and sponsorships; Russia will have seven new and five refurbished stadiums that are unnecessary and cost millions a year to maintain.

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