Friday, 3 February 2017

The Weekend Edition

Speed Round, The Weekend Edition

Speed Round, The Weekend Edition is presented in association with

One thing we’ll try to do this weekend is catch Becoming Warren Buffett, a documentary from HBO. The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki says the documentary, made with the cooperation of Buffett and his family, “deals with Buffett the businessman and investor, but it’s Buffett the man and his complicated, and often difficult, relationships with the people he loved most that are the film’s real subject. We are still treated to the greatest hits of Buffett’s business career… But what makes ‘Becoming Warren Buffett’ far more interesting than a simple hagiography is the exploration of Buffett’s personal life… Buffett was born to be great at investing. He had to work really hard to be good at living.” You can catch the promo here (runtime 01:02).

In the mood for something less true-to-life? Season six of Suits is back from its mid-season break — we’ve seen promos on OSN, but we’re watching on iTunes. It’s a very solid pickup from the mid-season cliffhanger that saw one of the lead characters leave the series. And if you’re not bothered by trans-anything or same-[redacted] love, Sense8 on Netflix from the Watchowskis (who brought you the Matrix trilogy) is simply stunning. One season is out now, as is a special double-length Christmas episode that sets up season two, which is set to drop in early May.

Also, rugby’s Six Nations championship starts on Saturday, with the first match between Scotland and Ireland kicking off at 4:25pm and England versus France to follow at 6:50pm.

Looking for a book? We started NYT correspondent Steven Lee Myers’ The New Tsar: The rise and reign of Vladimir Putinon the flight back to Cairo this week, and it is so far entirely engaging — and neither hagiography nor hack job.

We’re also delighted that Aly Shalakany’s biweekly Beyond the Rubicon column returns this week with a fascinating look at one cash-based nation’s decision to suddenly make two banknotes worthless overnight. There are plenty of lessons for Egypt there, and a bonus link to a mini-episode of Planet Money that we had missed.

Until then, we’ll keep our football hats on and enjoy this video of the Egyptian national team celebrating in the locker room after the Afcon semifinal win over Burkina Faso.

How are those plans for Daba’a going? The biggest problem with nuclear energy isn’t safety, economist Noah Smith argues in his Bloomberg View column, it’s cost. Despite the perception of it being a “clean” source of energy compared to other fossil fuels. “the economics of nuclear are almost certain to keep it a marginal part of the energy mix.” Smith argues that a new nuclear power plant costs about USD 9 bn to build, Egypt’s Russia-financed proposed Daba’a project is slated to cost a total of USD 25 bn to build four 1.2 GW nuclear reactors.

Smith’s USD 9 bn figure is “more than 1,000 times as much as a new fracking well.” He mentions it would also cost “more than 3,000 times as much as the world’s biggest solar plant.” (He’s wrong there, incorrectly identifying that plant as the Ivanpah Solar Plant in the Mojave Desert, when the world’s largest solar plant is actually Morocco’s Ouarzazate Power Plant that has an peak production capacity of 580 MW and comes at a total production cost of USD 9 bn). However, Smith’s point still stands: “Raising [USD 9 bn] is a daunting obstacle. It’s more money than Apple Inc., the U.S.’s most valuable company, borrowed in 2016… It’s hard to raise money for projects with giant fixed costs and long horizons for repayment, because they’re inherently risky. If something goes badly wrong with the project, all of that up-front money is lost. If competition makes a project un-economical in five or 10 years in the future, the financiers will take a big loss. It’s very hard to make predictions of more than a few years, especially about competing technologies.” And more importantly, solar continue to make significant progress. Plus, you know, there’s not going to be a solar Chernobyl.

Rapid advances in competing technologies are the main risk for nuclear energy going forward. “Solar power is already cheap and is plunging in price, while energy storage is also becoming much more affordable. If these trends continue, a nuclear power plant that’s economical today will be out-competed in a few years. In other words, there will be no way the owner could recover the fixed costs. What’s worse, nuclear doesn’t look like it’s getting any cheaper.” Of course, safety remains a concern as well. If terrorists find a way to attack nuclear power plants, the risks would obviously be catastrophic, similar to what might result from hackers attacking a plant’s software and causing it to meltdown. It is unclear how genuine these threats could be a few years from now, but it would all feedback into the cycle of increasing costs as preventing such attacks would require significant investment and will probably result in “large unanticipated costs.”

In Egypt’s case we have the added layer of risk of having the proposed power plant in Daba’a built near a diabolical maze of landmines still left from the Second World War. All of these risks move in parallel with the potential for human error, naturally, and we’re not sure if we’d have Homer Simpson to save us from a nuclear meltdown (runtime 02:31).

Could big data and psychometrics have helped put The Donald in the White House? The ability to algorithmically profile people based on their online behaviour was an important factor in Trump’s bid for the presidency, helping the candidate target potential voters with tailored messages, Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus write for Vice’s Motherboard.

Trump’s striking inconsistencies, his much-criticized fickleness, and the resulting array of contradictory messages, suddenly turned out to be his great asset: a different message for every voter.” Psychologist Michal Kosinski devised a method to analyze people through their Facebook activity. “In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook ‘likes’ by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent).” The method works the other way around too: finding people — like undecided Democrats, for instance.

Big data company Cambridge Analytica, which specializes in “innovative political marketing — microtargeting — by measuring people’s personality from their digital footprints” and which the UK “leave” Brexit campaign commissioned, was hired by Donald Trump for his campaign. The company might have used Kosinski’s method — its parent company had contacted Kosinski for inquiries. Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, revealed the method in a presentation at the 2016 Concordia Summit (runtime: 11:03) and it is revolutionary, almost disturbing. The method involves ad targeting, meaning that ads appearing to you correspond to your personality type, in addition to buying people’s data from sources including land registries and shopping data.

We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America—220 million people,” Nix tells his audience. “Until now, explains Nix, election campaigns have been organized based on demographic concepts. ‘A really ridiculous idea. The idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender — or all African Americans because of their race.’ What Nix meant is that while other campaigners so far have relied on demographics, Cambridge Analytica was using psychometrics.” Big Data indicated which messages by Trump worked where; Trump’s win would then be the biggest implementation of Big Data.

China’s Kiss of Debt: The single most important predictor of economic and financial trouble is when a country takes on too much debt over a short span of time, says Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets and chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in a video for Asia Society. There were around 30 instances of a country’s debt increasing by 40% or more over five years since the Second World War, he says, all of which reported deep economic trouble in the consecutive five years. In China, debt grew by 60% over the last five years, probably the fastest rate in recorded history. It takes USD 4 in debt to create USD 1 worth of GDP growth in China. In the first quarter last year, that number was as high as six to one. In America at the peak of the housing bubble in 2008, the comparable figure was USD 3 in debt for every USD 1 in growth.

In December 2016, the US Federal Reserve increased interest rates by 0.25% and outlined three future increases instead of the expected two, which could mean trouble for Beijing.
Higher interest rates in the United States could make it harder for China to manage its exploding debt —as the Asian giant increasingly depends on borrowing to keep growing — while simultaneously trying to block capital from fleeing for more fruitful shores in America, writes Ted Kemp for CNBC. "If the Federal Reserve [keeps increasing] interest rates in the United States, the single biggest casualty of that this time is going to be China, because there’s so much money just waiting to leave," said Sharma. China "is headed to debt outstanding as a percent of GDP to north of 250% vs 163% in 2008," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at economic advisory firm The Lindsey Group. The Chinese government said it issued CNY 794.6 bn in new loans in November 2016, well above October’s CNY 651 bn. Meanwhile, total social financing in China, a broad measure of credit in the country, rose to CNY 1.74 tn in November, from CNY 896.3 bn in October. "This is out of control, as this is happening at the same time their growth rate is in secular decline," Boockvar said.

Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation,” writes Clive Thompson for Wired. A study showed that “the state of boredom contained three main sources of value: altered perception of time, awakened curiosity about the environment, and exploration of self,” reads the abstract of a paper by Professor Tim Loas from the University of East London published in the journal Qualitative Research in Psychology.

Want to make use of the finding? Try not scroll through your phone to “kill time.” Don’t kill it. Make use of the potentially creative state you’re in, instead of binging on the junk that is social media. Doing nothing can actually be important: “If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought, then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge,” writes Manfred Kets De Vries, Insead Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change, for Forbes.

Just don’t take it to a crazy level and cut out coffee… Coffee, thinkers in the field suggest, could work against creativity by making you “too focused.” The problem? Creativity is associated with “the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways,” which usually comes at times when our mind is wandering, unfocused, as Maria Konnikova puts it in her The New Yorker article “How Caffeine can Cramp Creativity.”

How to recognize a steaming pile of B.S.: How many times has someone you know thrown around a questionable statement as if it were a verified fact, just because they saw it on El Face? With the advent of platforms that allow regular individuals to disseminate news, information, analysis, and whatever else without being subjected to fact-checking of any kind, there’s a whole lot of bull out there to sift through.

Some people have developed a bull[redacted] detector and approach the web in particular with a healthy sense of skepticism. Others, however, don’t have the same nuanced understanding of the reliability of information: One study from Stanford, for example, found that 80% of teenagers were unable to determine if a story labeled as “sponsored” is reliable, showing that there’s a lack of critical thinking skills when it comes to digesting information. And that’s exactly what two professors at the University of Washington want to teach their students. “Evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom and data scientist Jevin West have proposed a seminar on information literacy they say will prepare students to parse the news media, scientific studies, and particularly ubiquitous (and often exaggerated) claims about the power of algorithms and big data, which is reflected in the course’s ribald title: ‘Calling Bull[redacted] in the Age of Big Data,” according to The Outline.

On Bergstrom and West’s aptly named website for the proposed course, they explain: “As a first approximation, bull[redacted] is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence. While bullshit may reach its apogee in the political domain.” Given The Donald’s love for “alternative facts,” this course should be a staple for the next four years. (There will be only four, right. Right?)

Watch This

We love the budding local startup scene, but entrepreneurship cliches and self-proclaimed entrepreneurs can be, well, very annoying, to be polite about it. Satirist JP Sears nails it with his impression of an “entrepreneur” talking about his Entrepreneur Life. The entrepreneur talks about himself and his business, saying “my favorite question to ask people is the only question I know how to ask people: How’ve you monetized that?” On his business, he says: “All you really need to know is I’m in tech, the business of innovation… I’m expecting the valuation of my startup to come in north of a hundred mn. How much revenue has my company earned? We haven’t earned any revenue. I just raise capital.” One gem of advice he gives: “Failing forward is not only what I aim for it is essential for entrepreneurs. I learned so much more than if I were succeeding. When disasters happen in business I know how to proclaim ‘I’m failing forward,’ that turns my failures into automatic success and those successes are exactly what helps me disrupt the market” (runtime 05:40).

DOCUMENTARY OF THE WEEK- Frontline: The Warning. After the global financial crisis hit, many of its architects played dumb, telling congressional hearings that no one could have seen it coming. Alan Greenspan himself argued that one of the hallmarks of a bubble is that no one would realize it was happening until the bubble burst. In the first of its series on the global financial crisis and housing market bubble, Frontline: The Warning shines a spotlight on Brooksley Born, the former chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) who was the only regulator in the Clinton administration to warn of impending doom, and like the Cassandra of Greek mythology, was tragically and ruthlessly ignored. It channels her brilliant career from the first female student ever to be named president of the Stanford Law Review to a leading Wall Street attorney who worked extensively on derivatives before being tapped by Bill Clinton to run the CFTC. It also notes her constant fight for women in the workplace — a battle poignantly juxtaposed against the witch hunt to which she was subject when she tried to regulate the derivatives market.

But the film is also centered on the men who led that witch hunt and their motivations. The antagonists of the story include the Wall Street of Larry Summers and Bob Rubin. The ringleader? None other than Fed chairman Greenspan. Frontline takes the view that these men were not only offended by being challenged by this outsider who tried to her job, but felt their reputations as caretakers to the Clinton boom years and their free market ideology attacked. They rallied Wall Street and Congress behind them in a campaign to ridicule and silence Born, who after feeling that her position served no purpose as a result of their campaign resigned in protest in 1999. You can watch it on Youtube here (runtime: 54:40).

Listen to This

Eggheads talking about American Football: The New England Patriots take on Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI late on Sunday night (a few hours after Egypt’s Afcon final, by the way). Freakonomics brought a panel of “smart dudes” together to guide and tell us what to watch for during the game, “whether you’re a football fanatic or a total newbie.”

The panel includes Freakonomics coauthor and University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt along with “more qualified” panelists: Baltimore Ravens player and MIT applied mathematics PhD student John Urschel, Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Eric Winston, and former NFL defensive end and current Wharton MBA student Justin Tuck. Winston’s cardinal rule: “If you actually want to watch the game, step one — don’t bother a guy that’s really watching the game to explain it to you.” Host Stephen Dubner breaks it down “so if you’re a football novice and you’re watching the Super Bowl, you’ve got a few things in your pocket: watch the ads, of course; during the game, watch the ball but also take advantage of the stop-and-start nature of the game, that seven or eight seconds of amazing athleticism; and finally, if you’re looking to impress someone, tell them how the offensive lineman — the huge gentlemen up front who protect the quarterback and clear the path for runners — how they’re probably the brightest guys on the field” (runtime 28:25).

The rise of Germany’s most hated football club, or how consumerism might be ruining sport: RB Leipzig, a German football team, has been hugely successful in its eight-year existence. The BBC World Service’s Tim Mansel investigated the rise of the club, “widely derided in much of Germany as the creature of a multinational company more interested in selling cans of energy drink than winning football matches.” The “RB” in team’s name officially stands RasenBallsport, which translates roughly as “lawnball,” but everyone knows that it really stands for the club’s owner, Red Bull — which wasn’t allowed to slap its name onto the club. Leipzig, despite its impressive success, remains hated throughout most of Germany and seen as ruining “football culture.” Mansel also suggests the controversy surrounding RB Leipzig shows some divisions between the east and west parts of Germany (runtime 27:20).

Read This

It happens to the best of us: You mean to call your kid from the next room, but for some reason call out your dog’s name instead. According to cognitive scientist Samantha Deffler, mixing up names is “a normal cognitive glitch,” and actually has nothing to do with having a bad memory or aging. Instead, Deffler says that our brain organizes names into special folders, and the names we scramble are likely to belong to the same category (i.e. friends, family, colleagues, etc).

Like in the classic scene from the TV show, Friends. When Ross says his wedding vows, he is asked to repeat his fiancée’s name, Emily. He says his former girlfriend’s name Rachel instead. Now Ross probably had both Rachel’s and Emily’s names in his mental folder of loved ones and a mental mix-up ensued,” NPR’s Michelle Trudeau writes. Deffler and her colleagues studied the phenomenon, known as “misnaming,” by asking more than 1,700 participants about their personal experience with either misnaming or being misnamed, and found that misnaming is a common phenomenon and is most likely to occur with “semantically similar” (i.e. individuals within the same category) names.

Also, if this doesn’t settle the dog vs. cat dispute, we don’t know what will: Deffler et al. found that the inclusion of a pet’s name in a misnaming incident is significantly more likely to occur with a dog’s name than with a cat’s, suggesting that “dogs may be a central part of (at least some) families … as human-like members, whereas cats and other pets, although they may be part of the family, are not categorized as ‘human-like.’”

The real Tchaikovsky: Before passing away in 1893, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky gave the world some truly magnificent pieces of music, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and Violin Concerto. But there is reason to believe that some of Tchaikovsky’s music, as we now know it, is not quite what the Russian composer had written.

“Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, with its grand opening chords, is one of the most recognizable and popular pieces in the classical music repertoire. Yet the piano’s famous opening chords are not, in fact, what Tchaikovsky wrote at all,” pianist Kirill Gerstein writes for The New York Review of Books. In 1875, Tchaikovsky published the first version of the concerto, and later slightly amended the piece “while leaving both the musical material and the overall structure intact,” and published this amended version in 1879. For 14 years — until his death — Tchaikovsky continued to perform the amended version, but a third version was published posthumously, and it is believed that the changes made to the original work were not approved by the composer before his passing. A cloud of uncertainty hovers above the issue, but one of Tchaikovsky’s students, Alexander Siloti, is considered the culprit in the unauthorized changes to the composer’s work. Gerstein says the alterations Siloti allegedly made take away from the “genuine musical character” of the piece, and adds more “superficial brilliance” than anything else. “I do find that in all the cases where there is a discrepancy, what the composer wrote is more suitable and fitting to the musical content, to the general poetry of the piece,” he tells The New York Times.

Health

Digitizing health data is great for early detection of diseases, until it preys on our privacy. Gina Neff asks in a Wired piece the legitimate question of who owns your health records if you are using a mobile application that collects them or a wearable device to monitor your heart rate or steps you walked. It becomes even more legitimate especially when you learn that over 110 mn wearable sensors were sold globally in 2015. “Unlike health information collected and provided to healthcare professionals, the consumer digital data on fitness or health gathered by tech companies enjoys practically no protection,” writes Neff. And we don’t have access to the data generated about our health, because we simply don’t know which are actually being collected. “Some technology companies argue that mandating consumer control of data will have a chilling effect on their business models or their proprietary company information. But public health benefits are potentially too high.”

Can hearing be improved with AI? The people at Doppler Labs seem to think so with their new ear buds called Here One. While they might look like any other Bluetooth earbuds, their true purpose is AI enhanced human hearing, writes Robby Berman for BigThink. The company claims their ear buds will be able to mix ambient audio with music without a delay, something which had riddled previous attempts at the idea. The buds can identify people, in the same fashion Siri does, and allow you to do things like increase the volume of a baby’s crying amidst background noise in the house, reduce background noise or mute it all together. Because babies’ voices are so unpredictable and unique, the company essentially crowdsources its detection algorithms, cofounder Fitz Lanman tells Quartz. The product is an example of the kind of personalized, technology-based human enhancements we’re likely to see much more of, says Berman. While the benefits of such a device could be great in reducing hearing loss, we’re reminded of a certain episode of Black Mirror.

Tech

Streaming overtook song downloads in the U.S. for the first time in 2016, according to a year-end Nielson report, Matthew Strauss reported for Pitchfork. “Overall on-demand audio streams surpassed 251 [bn] in 2016 — a 76 percent increase that accounts for 38 percent of the entire music consumption market.” 2016 saw an average of 1.2 bn streams per day compared with 734 mn song downloads for the entire year. The finding is further supported by the fact that music streaming subscribers who pay monthly reached 100 mn, according to Shira Ovide and Leila Abboud who write for Bloomberg’s Gadfly.

“Although revenue is finally growing again for the big record labels, the music streaming industry is on the verge of a shakeout that could eliminate smaller players like SoundCloud.” Revenue from streaming resulted in the first significant gain for the music industry in the U.S. since 2000, with an 8% increase in revenue in the 1H16. Streaming services account for 47% of the U.S. music industry revenues. However, independent streaming services like Germany’s SoundCloud and Sweden’s Spotify remain unprofitable because of the amount of money they pay record labels. Spotify is expected to IPO this year. And Google is said to be interested in acquiring SoundCloud for USD 500 mn, writes Tim Ingham for Music Business Worldwide, who previously reported Pandora might be sold to SiriusXM. “If SoundCloud does sell to Google, it could be the beginning of a major shake-up in music streaming land in 2017.”

The Week’s Most-Clicked Stories

The most-clicked stories in Enterprise in the past week were:

  • Hadary’s saves in the Afcon semi. (Facebook video)
  • Denis Leary’s STFU bit, just for the day traders among us. (Video, Youku)
  • Starbucks boss Howard Schultz’s pledge to hire 10k refugees in reaction to Trump’s immigration ban is a masterclass in internal and external comms. (Starbucks corporate website)
  • The Financial Times’ Global MBA Ranking 2017 (Financial Times)\
  • Amr Adib freaking out over football. (Youtube)

Beyond the Rubicon

Show Me The Money

Imagine waking up one morning to the news that the government has announced that, overnight, all of your cash is illegal and that you, and everybody else, will need to go to the bank and exchange your cash for new notes. Not only that, but if the government suspects that the cash was sourced illicitly, you will be slapped with a one-off extortionate level of tax.
I suspect your heart might be racing at this, but don’t worry, you can relax — this is a story from India and, as far as I’m aware, there are no plans to implement this policy in Egypt. For now, at least.

On 8 November 2016, while most of us were overcoming the shock of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, announced the demonetization of all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes that account for approximately 86% of the cash in circulation in India. The government informed everybody they had 50 days to go to the Reserve Bank of India (India’s central bank) or any bank branch to exchange their old notes for new ones or credit the cash to their existing, or as the case may be, newly created accounts. To maintain an iron grip on the process, very restrictive limits were imposed on how much could be exchanged, deposited and withdrawn per day.

As you would expect, complete mayhem ensued. Try to imagine more than 1.3 bn people, in a primarily cash based economy, rushing to the banks all at once in a panic to try to exchange or deposit their soon to be illegal cash? Apart from the complete chaos and disruption to people’s daily lives, we are talking about queues and waiting times that are almost unimaginable (unless you are the sadistic person who designed the Mogama’a).

The problems were compounded by the usual government mishaps in implementing a radical shift in policy of this nature and magnitude overnight. For starters, the issuance of the new 2,000 rupee note, a critical piece of the plan, was delayed. And, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, after the notes were finally issued, it was discovered that the existing ATM machines were not equipped to issue the new notes.

So the question you must be asking right now is — why, oh why, would anyone go through with this? As we of all people should know only so well, the road to ruin is paved with good intentions. One of the main promises of Modi in his election campaign, which he and his BJP party won convincingly in 2014, was to combat corruption and act for the common people; he is the quintessential populist strongman who has vowed to stand up to the rich and powerful, of which, like everything else in India, there are many.

The aim of the demonetization program in the short term is to combat corruption, bribery, counterfeiting of currency and the funding of terrorism and illicit activities. Interestingly, one of the long-term objectives is to force the informal economy to transition to the formal economy. The demonetization program should not be seen as a standalone effort in this respect, but part of a series of efforts to achieve this goal. In 2009, the Aadhaar card, the equivalent of Egyptian National ID cards, were introduced in order to bring people into the formal economy and increase transparency, while very recently, India passed a Goods and Service Tax bill with a similar aim.

Supporters of the demonetization “movement” have heralded the policy as a quantum leap that epitomizes creative destruction that will catapult India into a cashless economy that will fuel digital and banking innovation, eradicate corruption and bring in billions of dollars in additional tax revenues. Already, many retailers have embraced e-wallets and e-commerce, while Jio, a subsidiary of one of the country’s largest conglomerates, announced ambitious plans to be India’s number one digital platform.

Critics, however, of which there are many, have dismissed the demonetization policy as a debacle that has jammed up the economy and unnecessarily hampered India’s growth prospects. One of the immediate negative effects was the lack of sufficient change available and people refusing to accept the relatively illiquid 2,000 rupee note, leading to significantly reduced level of commerce and trade, especially in traditionally cash based sectors such as agriculture and the informal economy. NPR’s Planet Money published a special mini-episode covering an amazing story on how tough these reforms made it for people’s everyday lives (runtime 03:54).

At this early stage, it is difficult to gauge whether or not this experiment is a success or failure. There are, however, some observations that are worth considering. Firstly, demonetization is not an Indian invention and many other countries have adopted demonetization for similar reasons and policy objectives; recently, the European Central Bank announced the phasing out of all EUR 500 notes in order to combat counterfeit notes and the funding of illicit activities.

It must also be said that, whether you love or hate the idea, the demonetization program implemented by Modi is courageous and, despite the significant transition costs, has the potential to generate large future benefits. Despite what some of the critics might say, this is not some irrational doomed to fail crusade against the rich – it is a high risk high reward policy that many economists, central bankers and governments around the world are monitoring with interest. If the gamble pays off, it won’t be too long before other government’s facing similar problems will seriously consider adopting a demonetization program of their own.

During my recent discussion with Dr. Rajaram Krishnan, an economics professor at Earlham College, he suggested that the demonetization program was “at worst, a populist measure introduced by a populist government wanting to be seen as fighting corruption whatever the cost, while at best, it is an excellent first step in simultaneously fighting corruption and transitioning millions of Indians into the formal economy. But unless the government follows up with other systematic administrative and enforcement changes to fight corruption, all would have been for naught as people will adapt and game the new system. Such changes are easier thought of than executed.”

Many of the reasons stated for undertaking the demonetization program in India are relevant to Egypt. This doesn’t mean I am advocating for Egypt to adopt a demonetization program, but if we are serious about combatting corruption, combatting the funding of terrorism and illicit activity and if we really do have an ambition for financial inclusion and digitization, then we need to take courageous steps of our own.

And look, if the end of 2016 is anything to go by, the current government has demonstrated that when Egypt’s economic survival is at stake they will do what’s necessary to get us back on track, even if those measures are unpopular and come at a high transition cost. This mantra was recently recited once again by Amr El Garhy in his interview regarding the Egyptian economic reform program.

If we want to reap the full benefit of the short-term pain we are experiencing at the moment, we need to continue with the reform drive and adopt progressive ambitious high reward strategies that will transform us into the powerful high growth economy we so dearly want to be.

 

Beyond the Rubicon is a column written exclusively for Enterprise every other weekend by Aly Shalakany, senior partner at Shalakany Law Office, which he joined from Linklaters in London. Aly is a noted specialist in finance, projects and mergers and acquisitions; his column appears exclusively in our Weekend Edition, offering an “inside baseball” look the intersection of business, economy and finance from the point of view of a practitioner at the top of his game.

On Your Way Out

Swiss photographer Roger Eberhard is wondering “why do we travel the world and stay in a place that looks same everywhere we go? What does that say about us as creatures of habit?" For his new photo book, Standard, the Swiss photographer traveled to 32 countries across six continents and always stayed for one night at a Hilton Hotel. “His documentation was always the same—one photo captured the interior of his Hilton hotel room, and another the view out of his window,” Meg Miller writes for Fast Codesign. “To flip from hotel room to hotel room in Standard is to find the design and layout of each room to be eerily uniform. This is by design,” Miller writes. Eberhard noticed that, while all the rooms were abiding by the Hilton Design and Construction Standards Manual, they each had slight changes in decor that alluded to the locale. Miller’s piece includes a slideshow of some of the rooms Eberhard spent time in.

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