Welcome to Bespoke Brunch Reads — a linkfest of the favorite things we read over the past week. The links are mostly market related, but there are some other interesting subjects covered as well. We hope you enjoy the food for thought as a supplement to the research we provide you during the week.


When the Story Changes, Be Alert by Bill McBride (Calculated Risk)

A compelling case that the generally stable US economic backdrop is shifting somewhat after years of catalyst free recovery from the last recession. [Link]

Why governments have overestimated the economic returns of higher education (The Economist)

Historically workers with degrees have earned a substantial wage premium, but there’s some evidence that this won’t be true in the future and investments in education are overrated. [Link]


Palantir Has Secretly Been Using New Orleans To Test Its Predictive Policing Technology by Ali Winston (The Verge)

The New Orleans Police Department is using algorithms which draw data from criminal records, ties to other gang members, and social media to predict criminal behavior; but that predictive policing approach isn’t disclosed to defendants as part of their trials. [Link]

Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm: How LittleThings went from social publishing darling to shutting down by Luicia Moses (Digiday)

Small tweaks to algorithms can have huge real-world consequences for publishing companies and consumers of media. [Link]

Big Tech

Why We May Soon Be Living in Alexa’s World by Farhad Manjoo (NYT)

A review of how embedded Alexa is becoming in households and lives, with sales running in the tens of millions for the sprawling universe of voice-activated devices. [Link; soft paywall]

Checking in With Alphabet Chair John Hennessy by Tekla S. Perry (IEEE Spectrum)

Unsurprisingly, Hennessy thinks “it’s not technology that has created the rifts in our communities”, and that focus on doing the right thing at Google is “more than just avoiding evil”.  [Link]

New Approaches

By mass-texting local residents, Outlier Media connects low-income news consumers to useful, personalized data by Christine Schmidt (Nieman Lab)

A Detroit media company is taking “service journalism” to new heights, but aiming at lower income citizens. The new model reads very, very differently from new digital journalism offerings that have sprouted up over the last few years. [Link]

Real Estate

Rising mortgage rates hit new home sales hard, an ominous sign for builders by Diana Olick (CNBC)

Low inventories, high prices, and now rising mortgage rates have made the outlook for new home sales activity less positive than it was a relatively short time ago. [Link; auto-playing video]


Tammy Duckworth faces predicament in Senate over maternity leave by Emily Tillett (CBS)

Illinois Senator Duckworth is due in April and will become the first sitting US Senator to give birth when her new daughter arrives. In the stuffy world of the US Senate, where children aren’t allowed on the floor and maternity leave doesn’t exist, that will create some issues. [Link; auto-playing video]

Report: No progress for African Americans on homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years by Tracy Jan (WaPo)

Higher unemployment, lower homeownership, much higher incarceration rates, much less wealth, lower income at similar levels of education and age, and little progress on all of these headwinds are a brutal laundry list of policy failure when it comes to the African American community. [Link; soft paywall]

Consumer Nightmares

How Defective Guns Became the Only Product That Can’t Be Recalled by Michael Smith and Polly Mosendz (Bloomberg)

What happens when a gun doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to? Unlike other products, basic consumer protections like recalls are simply not an option, and that can have deadly consequences. [Link]


Cryptocurrency Firms Targeted in SEC Probe by Jean Eaglesham and Paul Vigna (WSJ)

This week the SEC issued dozens of subpoenas and requests for information to companies that had issued cryptocurrencies or tokens, in a sweeping regulatory action that moves to bring the space into compliance with US law by hook or by crook. [Link; paywall]


The Economics of the Civil War by Roger L. Ransom (EH.net)

A data-intensive review of the causes, consequences, and costs of the Civil War from an economic perspective. [Link]

Tangled Webs

HNA via GAR? The mystery of Deutsche Bank’s largest shareholder by Robert Smith (FTAV)

Answering the question “Who owns the biggest chunk of Germany’s largest bank” is anything but straightforward. [Link; registration required]

High Yield

Marxism Has Cornered the Junk-Bond Market by Jim Bianco (Bloomberg View)

A rising share of the corporate bond market is captured in passive flows from ETFs and other index vehicles, presenting challenges for the market. [Link]

Health Care

What might the Amazon, Berkshire and JP Morgan health care joint venture actually do? by Tren Griffin (25iq)

Speculation on what might be in store for the non-profit joint venture between three of the largest American corporations. [Link]

Star Wars

We Dare You To Explain Luke’s Plan To Rescue Han In ‘Return of the Jedi’ by Mike Ryan (Uproxx)

Even if things went well, which they did not, Luke’s plan to get Han back from Jabba the Hutt was a complete non-starter, with nonsensical goals, terrible strategy, and absurdly bad execution. [Link]

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Have a great Sunday!

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