Creating Dialogue at Booth

Last issue’s reflection piece on the PalTrek spring break trip sparked a period of deep reflection for me these past several days. The publication of this article happened to coincide and intertwine with other recent events in my life, including organizing an Israel Independence Day barbeque with some of my classmates, watching the news in horror as 700 rockets were fired from Gaza into the cities and towns of my Israeli partner’s family, long conversations with a Palestinian Uber driver named Asus about our mutual love of shakshuka - a delicious tomato and egg dish - and the difficulty of mastering Arabic grammar, and preparations for my upcoming summer internship in Israel beginning next week. With all of these events swimming in my head, I feel compelled to share my perspective from my multitude of experiences I have had from previously visiting, living, and working in Israel.

Through this process, I was reminded of an event I attended this past November. I had the privilege of hearing Yossi Klein HaLevi, an American-born Israeli author, and Dr. Walid Issa, a Palestinian American engineer, speak on campus at Ida Noyes. The event was structured as part conversation and part storytelling, with each speaker discussing their Israeli and Palestinian narratives respectively. The event at UChicago was one of a series being held at university campuses across the country. I took notes at the event and was particularly struck by the following statement Yossi Klein HaLevi made at the beginning of the talk when introducing the personal journey he took that led him to meet Dr. Walid Issa:

“Curiosity is a very dangerous trait because it can lead to empathy. There is a reason why fundamentalists of any persuasion, whether religious or political, why [their] deepest fear is curiosity, because you never know where it can lead. It led eventually to our friendship and to the roadshow that Walid and I are doing on campuses around the country.”

Here at Booth, curiosity runs deeply in our cultural ethos. It’s what motivates us to step out of our comfort zone and take on rigorous courses and explore new countries with new friends. But as Yossi Klein HaLevi said, curiosity also has the potential to lead to empathy and to form an understanding. I often find in today’s political climate, whether discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or key American political topics, there exists little room for dialogue. We are quick to dismiss the perspective of others, at times preferring to shut them out of our hearts completely rather than take perhaps the harder, but potentially far more rewarding path, of inquiry and discovery. Complex and differing narratives and emotions, especially around topics deeply personal to us, can make taking this path all the more difficult. Despite these challenges, despite the assumptions you may even uncover about yourself in the process, I urge us all as stewards of curiosity to create more space in our community for dialogue and for a path towards empathy.

As a first step, my partner Shalom and I would like to open up our home to have a dialogue for those who are interested. Given the logistical constraints inherent to the end of the quarter, I will be reaching out again when we are back in Fall quarter to host a conversation. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me at to start a conversation sooner.

The Ever-Growing Pool of Democratic Presidential Candidates and the Possibility for Republican Challengers

By Aanika Patel, Class of 2020

There are currently 23 Democratic candidates running for their name on the ticket against President Donald Trump in Fall 2020. This number may no longer be accurate by the time this article prints at the rate new candidates are jumping in the pool. With the Iowa caucuses still eight months away this list will likely grow as more political hopefuls and business leaders join the list. Analysts including Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight predict this could be the largest primary pool in history.

The largest pools for the Democratic Party occurred in 1972 and 1976, producing 15 and 16 candidates respectively. These years did not yield a candidate that ended up winning the presidency. There have been a total of 10 presidential cycles where the total number of primary candidates between each party have reached double digits but only two have led to a sitting president.

As history has shown, this could be problematic for the Democratic Party. With a pool this large, it is unlikely, as has been in the past, for a single candidate to receive the majority of the popular vote in the primaries. This would lead to a contested convention and a messy timeline for resolution, leaving the Republicans more time to highlight and campaign for Trump.

The pool of Democratic hopefuls continues to grow well before caucuses in early 2020

The pool of Democratic hopefuls continues to grow well before caucuses in early 2020

Should Democrats be worried about the growing pool? Are they trading off having a variety of choices with making the strongest choice for the party?

The current pool has a larger than normal proportion of well-known names such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and fewer of the candidates that have low name recognition such as MA representative Seth Moulton. While some of the less known names may rise to the top during the campaign season, many will likely fall out of the race early. With so many potential candidates, like votes, fundraising dollars will also be more spread out. Democratic presidential hopefuls will have to be even more strategic with how they allocate their fundraising and build their campaign staff in order to compete.

With Iowa caucuses looming as the primary that gives the decisive first push out the door for the candidates who don’t perform well, some campaigns are likely to overspend and overallocated resources in that region. Even if they end up performing well, the next few caucuses will likely be shaky and boot them from the race regardless.

This is why in this primary, more than ever, name recognition and thus fundraising will be king. Outspending and pacing the spend in such a crowded field will be more significant than in primaries for the 2008 election where Obama who was a relative unknown was able to break through the field. Trump will also likely elevate those candidates with the higher name recognition as he calls them in out in campaign ads or tweets.

Democratic voters and candidates will need to be more decisive and earlier than they normally would in order to give their party the best chance at a fight for the presidency. As the pool grows and more high recognition names with large war chests and individual wealth join the ranks, the party will be best served to adjust timelines and ensure they reach a mandate as soon as possible.

The Republican pool seems quiet for now. Republicans, even those who have been vocalized opposition to Trump, don’t appear to be willing to take him on in a primary race next summer. Former MA governor and federal prosecutor, Bill Weld, has explored the primary challenge and has some experience running for the presidency as a member of the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016. It is unlikely he will gain enough traction to make a viable bid for the presidency and has yet to officially announce his candidacy. Other potential challengers include MD Governor Larry Hogan and former OH Governor John Kasich who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016.

While these potential options are not likely to beat Trump in the primary, the primary race itself is likely to weaken Trump’s chances in the general election. The challenge in the primary, if viable, will highlight divisions within the party that are likely to bleed into the general election and cause even more uncertainty amongst key demographics including moderates and undecided voters.

Much like the Democrats, the Republican Party needs to be decisive in its decision to throw their full support behind Trump or begin supporting a candidate that has a fighting chance of decisively beating Trump in a way that unites the party. At this time, it appears that candidate does not exist and Republicans are best served by rallying behind Trump rather than focusing on the fractures in the party, especially after losing the House in 2018 , that are entertaining other candidates.

The 2020 General Election will be held on November 3, 2020.

America’s gods and limits of antitrust law

By Samuel Sanya

samuel headshot.jpg

Imagine you were God for a minute, right this instant! What would you do first? Would you override the sixty seconds limitation and remain God in perpetuity? Maybe make mayor Pete Buttigieg the first openly gay President?  Give yourself that amazing body you’ve always craved? Perhaps. Honestly, you could do with a makeover. Who doesn't?

The idea of being God may sound incredible, but America has created new gods. Our gods do not talk much, but they listen all the time. They like to eavesdrop every second, despite laws against illegal wiretaps - our gods do it for our own good apparently.

Our gods have concentrated so much knowledge, 2.5 quintillion bytes of knowledge each day, in every discipline which will enable them to play god in perpetuity. But why is knowledge so important?

Knowledge, information, facts, perception, appreciation or cognition, call it what you will, is the foundation of economics, business, and life as we know it. Acquisition of knowledge and its assembly determines power.

Whether you become a university professor, an analyst, an entrepreneur, a CFO or even a CEO will be determined by how well you assemble knowledge. You will have to continue amassing new knowledge to keep collecting paychecks.

At the beginning of this article, I asked about what you would do first as God for sixty seconds. Your answers depend on your state of mind. But suppose you had access to 7 billion minds, simultaneously?

Computer scientists are desperately trying to attempt that through machines; like the chess computers that combine the chess moves of the most brilliant minds to have ever played the game. The result is that computers are now better at chess than human beings.

Knowledge is so precious that it takes years to improve upon. Think about how long it took for Newton, Einstein, and Faraday to come up with new ways to understand physics or for economists like Stigler, Friedman, Keynes or Carl Marx to create stunning theories.

It is knowledge and its unique assembly that creates power. Thus Google, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have become powerful through their ability collate knowledge from over 2 billion human beings; every second, every minute, and every hour.

Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc (an appropriate name for a firm that wants to know all things from a to z), has gone the extra mile to begin the nascent field of “surveillance capitalism”.

Through the control of android technology which is the basis for several computer applications which turn mobile phones into listening devices, devices like Alexa - which is basically a listening bug and personal assistants to gather knowledge from “private” emails; Google knows you better than you know yourself.

We are all addicted to the internet and its little pleasures such as lower prices, and convenience and are volunteering a lot of knowledge to a handful of tech giants. We are unknowingly creating gods. These gods are now disrupting politics, journalism, finance, and the way we relate in society.

The Catholic church has 1.2 billion members and declining; Facebook has about 1.72 billion members and growing. Facebook has such a strong grip on the social networking scene that even Google, another monopoly, failed to enter that market despite its behemoth status.

Such failure by a tech giant should have set off alarms to the existence of entry barriers, but Facebook has somehow avoided regulatory heat, save for the scrutiny due to revelations from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

It seems clear that the current laws are not equipped to check the concentration of knowledge. Antitrust law is meant to ensure competitive markets, breaking down barriers to entry and the protection of consumers; but we face a situation where the consumers are handing monopoly powers to a handful of market players and harm is not easy to prove when someone is in love.

Lior Strahivevitz, a University of Chicago Law School professor who writes on privacy law, property theory and consumer contracts pointed out that internet firms are increasingly using dark patterns to nudge people into something they do not want. This is manipulation by America's gods.

In a keynote presentation at the Stigler Center 2019 antitrust and competition conference at the Gleacher Center, Strahivevitz posed an important question. Can the law differentiate between persuasion and manipulation? Not really.

These tech giants have employed the best economists to skirt the limits of existing competition laws and have done so with great success. In fact, one can argue that these firms have been too successful that they have morphed from super firms into de facto governments with their own policy aimed at maintaining a worldwide grip on knowledge.

As more things turn digital, that grip is only going to get tighter. And as the grip gets tighter, the digital industry is shaping the world into a large shopping mall with centralized control where they gather the rents and determine the distribution of resources. Think of it as a one world government with unelected and unaccountable officials.

Despite the efficiencies they create; Google, Facebook, and Amazon should be broken up and not be allowed to play god for the good of democracy and capitalism.

Streaming Service vs. Streaming Service vs. Cable

by Aanika Patel

Since Netflix’s announcement in 2007 to launch an online streaming service, the way we view content and the media and entertainment industry has been changed. Now almost 61% of young adults watch TV through streaming services and Netflix accounts for 15% of the world’s internet traffic. We as a society are predicted to shift even further away from the traditional evenings spent around a cable-enabled TV and are more likely to be streaming or casting something on to our screens instead.

Everyone wants to get in on the world of streaming. Disney announced last year that it will be entering the streaming business with its own platform in 2019 and pulling all Disney content from Netflix. With its massive library of intellectual property and an extremely loyal following when it comes to family movies in particular, another streaming service just became a must-have. This stacks up on top of other popular platforms such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, CBS All-Access, and more. Every network wants to have its own streaming service.

But at what point do streaming platforms become the very problem they were trying to solve?

The excitement and ingenuity of Netflix and Hulu when they launched in the early naughts came from having the content you love on-demand and at a more affordable price than buying cable. You may not be able to access live programming such as sporting events or award shows but you had a large library that was worth the price of under $10 or $15 a month.

In preparation for Disney pulling its library and a commitment to building more original content, Netflix raised subscription prices again this year and there are rumors that other streamlining services aren’t far behind. While there are still many users who maintain both a cable and multiple streaming services, the total bill for a mix of streaming services is approaching what it would be to just maintain a standard cable account and potentially rent or pay for movies on an ad hoc basis.

Cable companies have tried to respond to the growing trend away from traditional cable and towards streaming. Almost cable provider has its own on-demand app that contains a library of titles you can stream on demand – some of which may soon have some of the high-value content that is being pulled from Netflix due to deal structures between cable providers and media companies. These providers also have the added benefit of a large library of live TV and greater flexibility in recent years to great a more customized channel mix when selecting a cable package.

As streaming services begin to break off from Netflix and Hulu-like disruptors, we as consumers will be forced to decide how much of our wallets we want to pay for these bundles or if the traditional cable package has become attractive once again. Streaming services will need to pay careful attention about the unique content mix they acquire and how their competitive strategy may be shifting more towards keeping viewers from returning to cable rather than acquiring them from traditionally cable-centric viewers

Everyone Lies, but Do Their Avatars?

by Anumita Chakrabarti


Gaming companies are sitting on a data goldmine they may not be properly aware of

I recently watched my brother-in-law deeply immersed in a video game called Zelda. The goal of the game is to rescue a princess named Zelda and by the looks of it, the task is not very straightforward. It is not game like Mario or Road Rash where beyond a point, the players’ moves become muscle memory. It is a highly exploratory game which my 28-year-old brother-in-law plays with the utmost sincerity. He collects weapons, concocts bizarre recipes and finds clever ways of getting past ethereal digitally crafted fields, mountains, and rivers, right out of a Peter Jackson Middle Earth adaptation. Although he is being watched by no one (to his utter dismay, we flatly refuse to watch his impressive feats), he patiently collects every equipment, never skips a step and takes only calculated risks. I have had the chance to get to know my brother-in-law well, and I can see how his gaming behavior ties in perfectly with his consumer behavior. Every restaurant he goes to is thoroughly researched, every show he watches must cross a certain rating threshold and I know that getting every buck out of his pocket, is nothing short of an implicit detailed pitch by the product.

My sister, on the other hand, could not be more different. She takes risks, is impatient to see the next challenge and wants to get the job done as soon as possible. She plays Zelda like a crusade, trying to rescue to Zelda as soon as possible. If asked explicitly, both my sister and brother-in-law (both with graduate degrees in human-centered design) consider themselves to be rational shoppers, thorough researchers, and extremely self-aware buyers. But getting a buck out of my sister is child’s play, something she would never admit to (or even consciously realize) while filling out a survey, but her gaming behavior belies her true instincts.

My hypothesis here is that a person’s gaming behavior is one of the most unadulterated sources of raw user data. It is highly representative of our true behavior and is most likely a better data set than surveys in which we often respond as our ideal selves. This thesis of how “everybody lies” on surveys ties in with the thesis of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book of the same name. He suggests how our search queries on Google more accurately reflect our true views as opposed to answers we may put forth to explicit questions.

In a game, whether you step back when you perceive danger or take a step forward and explore, is indicative of your risk appetite. Whether you judiciously collect and use your rewards in a game or spend them willy-nilly, shows that you gain more utility from building up security or conversely, maximizing the experience. As games become increasingly intricate and life-like and AI-enabled experiences become more ubiquitous, companies can create more accurate customer personas by better assessing and interpreting these subtle behavioral traits. This is not just relevant to B2C companies but also B2B companies, which might want to assess the nature and impact of human interactions within their value chains.

Analyses along these lines can be further developed to confirm ethnographic trends. For instance, certain cultures, broadly speaking, may derive more utility from savings rather than experiences. Accounting for these nuances can inform the product and service design process better and lead to greater customization and efficiency. Although designing offerings with such dexterity and nuance may seem a far-off reality at this point, there is little doubt that gaming companies like Nintendo and Sony are sitting on a gold-mine of data which companies could (and in my opinion, should) be vying to get their hands on.