Motu researchers on rogue state USA, the use of antidepressants, gerrymandering in social networks, painting cows, and the history of philosophy in one graphic…

Motu researchers on rogue state USA, the use of antidepressants, gerrymandering in social networks, painting cows, and the history of philosophy in one graphic…

This week’s Top 5 comes from Ben Davies, Sophie Hale, Bronwyn Bruce-Brand, Ceridwyn Roberts, and Shaan Badenhorst of economic research institute Motu.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

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1. What if the world treated the US like a rogue state?

Some risky but practical proposals to harness a superpower that has clearly lost control. This is an eloquent, well-presented piece on the intricacies of sanctioning one of the world’s most powerful nations. There is no doubt that the USA is a global power, but the current political leadership and its relations with other nations over the last three years has forced leaders, political commentators, political scientists and others to do something that has never occurred before. They are carefully considering options regarding trade exposure, national defense, climate action and the feasibility of punishing a developed, Western democracy. America’s entrenched financial structure, which roots itself in virtually all of the world’s financial systems is a key barrier to any serious sanctioning while weaknesses in lack of action over climate change and relations with China may point to soft spots for potential action by concerned nation states.

2. Information gerrymandering in social networks skews collective decision-making

“Gerrymandering” occurs when political boundaries are redrawn to deliver vote outcomes different than majority preferences. Stewart et al. (2019, Nature) describe a similar issue in the context of social networks used to share information about voters’ preferences. The authors show that “information gerrymandering” can bias the outcome of otherwise split votes, and that the incentive to introduce this bias can lead to political deadlock.

3. More Young NZers using Antidepressants

This article highlights that the focus on the mental wellbeing of New Zealanders is well-founded. The authors highlight that anti-depressant prescriptions have increased significantly over the 2006-2017 period for young New Zealanders and that this was concentrated in the 13-17-year-old group. Of concern, however, is the disparity highlighted between young people of different ethnic groups, with Māori and Pasifika less likely to have used anti-depressants, despite generally having higher rates of mental health problems compared to Pākehā. It is important to note that the diagnoses associated with the prescriptions were not investigated. And given the concern for young people to become dependent on these drugs, more work should be done to investigate the reasons for the increase in prescriptions and should look at other forms of treatment and their utilisation over time.

4. Painting cows like zebras reduces biting fly attacks

Biting flies are responsible for more than US$2 billion of annual economic losses in cattle production in the United States alone. Insecticide use is widespread, however given the resistance insects evolve within about a decade, some researchers in Japan tested another, more creative approach: they painted cows like zebras to test whether this reduced rates of biting fly attacks. Of the three treatment groups (black and white stripes, black stripes only and no stripes), black and white striped cows were significantly less affected by biting flies, both in terms of the number of biting flies and the frequencies of fly-repelling behaviours observed. This approach has the potential to minimise costs and improve animal welfare – a good moo-ove forward! Full research article is available here.

5. The history of philosophy: summarised and visualised

Visual communication designer Deniz Cem Önduygu created a visual summary of some key ideas in the history of Western philosophy. By clicking on an idea, readers can see other linked arguments, read what’s been said on a particular subject, and find different perspectives. If a statement agrees with or expands on an old one, they’re connected with a green line. If it disagrees with or refutes an old statement, they’re connected with a red line. One warning from the designer: These sentences are dry summaries of long, intricate argumentations and some of them are not even comprehensible if you’re not already familiar with the subject/philosopher.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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If the term "rogue state" linked to the US entered the international mainstream media, what would the US reaction be?

No doubt it would be entertaining, but their true colours would quickly be revealed. Might even influence their next election?

Number 3: young people are dependent on the order around them. They depend on having responsible adults in their lives (parents and others) to give them the order - the security and stability - needed for healthy mental, emotional and physical growth. It is commonly disorder in the adult world that produces disorder in children and adolescents. We adults need a hard look in the mirror. Feeding anti-depressants to the young is looking the other way. The more adult chaos, the more mental illness in the young.

I agree workingman. I've fist hand experience in this area & with hindsight, the more stable the family home (especially the key parental relationship) the better the results are in their offspring. Perhaps we should some how discourage children having children, as this is where a large part of this problem originates.

Fully agree: it's the essence of a new book from Mary Eberstadt: 'Primal Screams'. Required reading....

Who am I? The question today haunts every society in the Western world. Legions of people—especially the young—have become unmoored from a firm sense of self. To compensate, they join the ranks of ideological tribes spawned by identity politics and react with frenzy against any perceived threat to their group. As identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, other citizens face the consequences of their rancor: a litany of “isms” run amok across all levels of cultural life; the free marketplace of ideas muted by agendas shouted through megaphones; and a spirit of general goodwill warped into a state of perpetual outrage.

Which countries can hold themselves up as morally superior and call out the US as a rogue state? Obviously not any country in the EU. As they often point out, if the union ever fell apart they'd just make war on each other, and as a customs union they're the free trade bad guys. Australia and Canada are climate change villains. India is supposedly run by a religious chauvinist. China locks up millions of Muslims. And a large chunk of what's left over are flawed democracies at best. Who are we talking about here - Sweden and NZ? And NZ only if Jacinda wins the next election?

Excellent call. While I would love to see genuine action on climate change from the US, at least they have not hypocritically signed up to commitments they do not have any intention of honouring (looking at you, NZ, Australia, Canada, basically every country except those of the EU). And let's not get started on the human rights abuses around the globe.

The scariest part of this proposal is that it probably suits most US voters just fine. Liberal democracy and human rights around the world are on the decline. An isolationist US will hasten that decline.

Cue accusations of "Whataboutism".

First accusations always trump counter accusations. You know that!

I'm going to paint myself with black and white stripes and see if it keeps the mossies away. I'll report back at the end of the summer.

If you are a "super power" and you are not in some sense a rogue state you're probably doing something wrong.

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