Free Bitcoin at MIT

MIT just recently gave each undergrad $100 in Bitcoin for completing a survey. The MIT Bitcoin Project, the group of students heading this initiative, plans to make MIT the global hub for business and research on Bitcoin. This marketing technique also encourages students to seek entrepreneurial activity and  some scholars believe it will have network effects. One post by William Luther, explains these network effects:

“individuals are concerned not only with the characteristics of bitcoin—how its supply is governed, ease of access, security of transactions, etc.—but also who else is accepting bitcoin. The size and composition of the bitcoin network matters. If few others are accepting bitcoin—or, more to the point, if few of one’s trading partners are accepting bitcoin—there’s little reason to accept it.”


Clearly there is merit to this reason for giving out “free” Bitcoin. Already, the bookshop at MIT accepts Bitcoin. Other apps are springing up that allow users to pay with Bitcoin as well. What is really interesting is that the MIT Bitcoin Club has a well-designed site encouraging the use of Bitcoin and events to promote it to the public. Although the ease and use-ability of the site is unsurprising based on the caliber of students that attend the university, it is interesting that a student club is going so far as to encourage usage of the Bitcoin by distributing it to students.

Politics and Perceptions

The “reality” of a political/economic system is never known to anyone, but human beings do construct elaborate beliefs about the nature of that “reality” — beliefs that are both a positive model of the way the system works and a normative model of how it should work. The belief system may be broadly held within a society; alternatively, widely disparate beliefs may be held…

The resultant path dependence typically makes change incremental. But change is continually occurring (although the rate will depend on the degree of competition among organizations and their entrepreneurs), resulting in alterations of the institutional matrix, revisions of perceptions of reality, and therefore new efforts of entrepreneurs to improve their position in a never-ending process of change. Change can also result from non-human-induced changes in the environment, such as natural disasters; but overwhelmingly it is humans themselves who incrementally alter the human landscape.

-North, Summerhill, & Weingast’s “Order Disorder, and Economic Change” 1999, 7.



Ferguson and Political Symbolism

I am a black man. I am also a human being. I like to think of myself as a reasonable and humane human being. As such, I was deeply disturbed when I first learned of an incident involving the death of an unarmed teenager at the hands of a police officer. I was yet further disturbed upon hearing initial reports that the officer acted without apparent justification. Stories poured forth about a young black man who was a gentle giant, who could not possibly have done anything to warrant or provoke such an action from law enforcement. For the white officer, initially nameless, the implication was that this man was either a racist scoundrel with an itching trigger-finger or, at the very least, callously indifferent to the consequences of his unnecessary use of deadly force. The calls came immediately and insistently “What is the name of this monster who would so heartlessly snuff out the life of the gentle giant?” Darren Wilson. Darren Wilson was not just white, but a blank canvas against which a community could paint its historical grievances. Darren Wilson became a symbol, and Michael Brown, the gentle giant, was also a symbol.

I am not going to debate the facts or even give my interpretation of them. That would be easy. The point I want to make is broader. It is this: once the events of August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO took on transcendent significance, once the two chief actors became symbols—mere images to be invoked—the facts became irrelevant. The particulars became mere particulars—they could be shaped to suit the larger narrative into which they had been taken up. When a white cop shoots a black man in a black town with a white police force, the facts no longer matter—whatever truly happened that day in Ferguson is truly epiphenomenal. The players may change, there are countless insignificant variations of time and place, but the tragedy goes on…

U.S.-China Climate Deal and “Hyperbolic Congratulations”

Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently made a fair point in the Washington Post about the U.S.-China climate deal that I want to recognize. While conceding that the hype surrounding the deal amounts to “hyperbolic congratulations (‘game-changer‘, ‘historical‘, ‘this century’s most significant agreement‘),” he goes on to insist that:

It is also wrong to fix narrowly on the two-degree benchmark. It is a laudable goal, and one that is technically achievable, but by most honest reckonings, is politically implausible. And the difference between other amounts of warming – say between two degrees and three and four – could be dramatic. An agreement that cuts emissions is worthwhile even if it doesn’t deliver the two degree goal.

To be sure, none of this makes the deal the “gamechanger” that some people have heralded, or means that it will “save the world” as others have claimed. Critics and enthusiasts of climate diplomacy alike focus too much on super-high standards when assessing climate agreements. Supporters have wrongly obsessed with achieving a comprehensive global climate treaty, and their opponents have gloated when attempts to negotiate such an agreement have inevitably failed. (A corollary: Those who welcomed the U.S.-China announcement primarily as a sign that a big global treaty might be possible next year are missing its main point.) Just as Cold War arms control never eliminated the risk of nuclear war, even as it substantially reduced nuclear dangers, so climate diplomacy can help the world by reducing the risks of global warming, even as it never rids the planet of them. That’s the right standard by which to judge the big U.S.-China climate announcement – and, by that measure, the deal is a genuine success.

Again, fair point…



Updating Schoolhouse Rock in an Era of Dysfunction

I’m gonna go out on a limb and predict that, after all the hemming and hawing, we will ultimately end up with immigration reform in the form of legislation in the coming Congress–if not in one major bill, then in piecemeal confidence-building efforts. It seems the only other options for congressional Republicans boil down to either letting the President’s action go unchecked or to check it with escalating punitive obstruction which will be gratifying in the immediate term, but ultimately detrimental to their own newly resurgent (and precarious) prestige. Another option is a legal challenge which might ultimately succeed, but perhaps not within a time horizon relevant to the present conflict. As an aside, a legal challenge may still prove attractive if it adds momentum to the 2016 presidential contest.

In the meantime, SNL has demonstrated yet again that its true calling is not the quirky, slightly raunchy humor to which it often resorts, but political satire. Here is an update to the Schoolhouse Rock classic “I’m Just a Bill”:


A Classic(al) Response to the President’s Plan

President Obama will finally announce his intended executive actions on immigration tonight at 8/7 central after a dinner with congressional Democrats. You will be able to catch that live here.

Meanwhile Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) can keep us entertained with a speech from Cicero, originally delivered in 63 B.C., modified for this occasion:



UPDATE: Here is President Obama’s address.

Obama’s executive action:

— Delays the deportation of the undocumented parents of children who are in the country legally.

— It also protects any children who were brought to this country illegally before January 1, 2010.

— It directs immigration officials to concentrate on deporting criminals and those who pose a threat to national security.

Best line:

“But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is that millions of immigrants in every state, of every race and nationality still live here illegally. And let’s be honest: tracking down, rounding up,  and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you.”