|Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was published on March 10, 2014, the day after the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” aired on Fox and its sister networks.
The fact that both men have captured the public imagination at the same time is at least partly due to that simple fact. There’s also the matter of professional ripeness, behind the appearance of fresh fame: Piketty had been around for some time, publishing papers and collaborating on constructing the Top Incomes database along with Emmanuel Saez, but he’d never published anything remotely as sweeping as “Capital” before. Similarly, Tyson had long been a prominent science communicator as well as astrophysicist, appearing as a guest on numerous shows, including both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” as well as hosting PBS’s “Nova ScienceNow.” But he’d never hosted a commercial TV show before.
Yet, the two men’s sudden popularity is rooted in some deeper similarities as well — an empirical hunger, and a desire to think big in shaping the future, are two that come readily to mind. These are both long-standing features of American culture, exemplified by figures like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Luther Burbank, just to name a few. But both these cultural appetites have been repeatedly stifled in 21st-century America. […]
It’s long been well understood that for all the good it did, the New Deal’s spending levels were insufficient to restore the economy to full employment; only World War II did that. Soros articulated what many others recognized: that the need to save us from global warming represented a World War II-size challenge that could be turned to a similar advantage, if only we had the vision and leadership to do so. The hunger for that vision and leadership is with us still — along with the still-unmet challenges — which is part of why Piketty and Tyson have struck such a deep chord in public consciousness.
But in addition to a hunger for empiricism and thinking big, there’s a third hunger that Piketty and Tyson speak to — a hunger for meaning, for a big-picture story that helps us collectively make sense of our lives. In Piketty’s case, this comes from his insight that capitalism does not just naturally evolve to a state of broader general prosperity, as many optimistically came to believe in the early post-World War II era (when it temporarily seemed to be happening); but rather that political choices are necessary to shape the rules to make broad prosperity possible. This means that we have collective agency in shaping our shared future — a message that resonates historically with Tom Paine’s declaration that “we have the power to begin the world anew.”
In Tyson’s case, the big-picture story is that science itself can give meaning to our lives, because the hunger to know is built into who we are. “Kids are never the problem,” Tyson explained in one Ask Me Anything session. ”They are born scientists.” […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—Determining the real oil flow could cost BP billions:
|Here's a question that is bothering me: why are BP and the Federal government telling two different stories about the importance of closing the vents on the containment cap over BP's leaking well?
It's certainly possible that the government's position (that the vents should be closed) is wrong, and if so, they need to clarify the record. But I'm far more suspicious of BP's position -- that we don't need to close the vents -- and it all comes down to one reason: money.
Let me explain. The one thing that everybody agrees on is that if the vents were closed and we could bring all the oil to the surface, we'd have a good idea what the flow rate actually is. Another independent researcher is now pegging the rate at 100,000 barrels per day, but if we captured all the oil, we'd have a much more reliable figure for the flow-rate.
So what does that have to do with money? Well, if you were BP, you'd know the fines that will be levied against you are calculated by the barrel. And if you're BP and you've been spewing 100,000 barrels per day since April 20, you be looking at a fine so far of $21.5 billion -- a fine that's growing ever single day. (That's if they get hit with the $4,300 per barrel maximum.)
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