The Best of the Week


Power sharing in the first human societies is among the best stories of the week.

John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge: “The Fourth Revolution” – The Diane Rehm Show – With Tom Gjelton

In an extraordinary, wide-ranging interview, two Economist writers talk about their new book, “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State.” The merits of American-style democracy and its role in different parts of society are seen through the authors’ own British perspective.

When it comes to democracy, the West has always come out on top. From the creation of the nation-state, to the idea of liberal democracy, to the development of welfare programs, Western Europe and the United States have led the way. But today…the West is at risk of being left behind unless there’s a re-invention of the state. The authors say the U.S., in particular, is failing badly at the task of government reform. But they point to nations in some surprising places that are giving it a lot of thought—like the tiny country of Singapore.

Why You’re More Stressed by Home Than Work – Time – By Belinda Luscombe

An effect was more pronounced more women than for men:

For many men, the end of the workday is a time to kick back. For women who stay home, they never get to leave the office. And for women who work outside the home, they often are playing catch up with household tasks. With the blurring of roles, and the fact that the homefront lags well behind the workplace in making adjustments for working women, it’s not surprising women are more stressed at home.

The stone Moai of Easter Island. Image: Aurbina.

The stone Moai of Easter Island. Image: Aurbina.

Q&A: European Contact Not Land Use Led to Easter Island Collapse – The Santiago Times – By Celia Scruby

Conventional knowledge says the isolated island people of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, were done in by their own, self-caused, environmental ruin.

If we compare Rapa Nui to the rest of the Pacific the same thing was happening everywhere. Here in Hawaii the population fell by 50 percent within the first 50 years after European’s landed [because of sexually-transmitted disease]. I would say, based on the evidence, that was when the population dynamics really changed. Then the really fatal impact for Rapa Nui was in the 1860s when the strong men on the island were taken off [by slavers] to Peru to work in the mines.

‘Byzantine iPad’ Found in Ancient Shipwreck – Discovery News – By Rossella Lorenzi

Byzantium was the eastern European continuation of the Roman Empire.

A primitive “app” is hidden on the bottom panel: a sliding lid revealing a hidden plate with carved spaces.

Our Egalitarian Eden – Science – Elizabeth Pennisi

Humans lived in societies with very equal shares of power for most of our history until 10,000 years ago, roughly the time when agriculture began. Some suggest agriculture meant the beginning of amassable resources and thus political power.

To find out why humans shunned hierarchies for most of our history, anthropologists have studied living hunter-gatherers around the world, including Native Americans and the Ju/’hoansi/!Kung. Iconic studies of these societies show that boasting and other self-aggrandizing behaviors are not allowed.


Map of world countries by GDP (nominal). Image: Quite vivid blur.

Map of world countries by GDP (nominal). Image: Quite vivid blur.

The GDP – Wellbeing Gap – Project Syndicate – By Zakri Abdul Hamid and Anantha Duraiappah

Hamid and Duraiappah look at the relationship between GDP – the money value of everything produced in an economy – and well-being, the actual quality of life of individuals in an economy. Traditionally believed to be closely related, the authors look at the two in-depth. Do we need better indicators of our society’s health?

In fact, there is a rising disconnect between countries’ per capita GDP and their citizens’ wellbeing, as rapid output growth exacerbates health challenges and erodes environmental conditions. Given this, people increasingly value non-material wealth just as highly as monetary wealth, if not more.

13,000-Year-Old Teenager Was Early American – CNN – By Elizabeth Landau

The discovery supports the idea that Native Americans and Paleoamericans came from the same people, who traveled into the Americas from Asia. It therefore challenges the idea that Native Americans came from a second migration that displaced earlier inhabitants.

Genetic evidence from both modern Native Americans and ancient skeletons indicates that people of Siberia landed in eastern Beringia between 26,000 and 18,000 years ago, the study said. They seem to have moved south after 17,000 years ago.

Bonus story:

The Workplace Flexibility Experiment – The Wall Street Journal – By Lauren Weber

Not written this week, but cool enough to make the list anyway. This study looks at the effects of flexible work hours.

The freedom to set a flexible schedule made the daily juggle more bearable for working parents, who reported working about one hour less overall per week, without any decline in productivity or performance.