Daily Archives: April 9, 2019

The new spirit of postcapitalism

Capitalism emerged in the interstices of feudalism and Paul Mason finds a prefiguring of postcapitalism in the lifeworld of the contemporary European city.
By Paul Mason – Raval, Barcelona, March 2019. The streets are full of young people (and not just students)—sitting, sipping drinks, gazing more at laptops than into each other’s eyes, talking quietly about politics, making art, looking cool.

A time traveler from their grandparents’ youth might ask: when is lunchtime over? But it’s never over because for many networked people it never really begins. In the developed world, large parts of urban reality look like Woodstock in permanent session—but what is really happening is the devalorization of capital.

But just 20 years after the roll-out of broadband and 3G telecoms, information resonates everywhere in social life: work and leisure have become blurred; the link between work and wages has been loosened; the connection between the production of goods and services and the accumulation of capital is less obvious.

The postcapitalist project is founded on the belief that, inherent in these technological effects lies a challenge to the existing social relations of a market economy, and in the long term, the possibility of a new kind of system that can function without the market, and beyond scarcity.

But during the past 20 years, as a survival mechanism, the market has reacted by creating semi-permanent distortions which—according to neoclassical economics—should be temporary.

In response to the price-collapsing effect of information goods, the most powerful monopolies ever seen have been constructed. Seven out of the top ten global corporations by market capitalization are tech monopolies; they avoid tax, stifle competition through the practice of buying rivals and build ‘walled gardens’ of interoperable technologies to maximize their own revenues at the expense of suppliers, customers and (through tax avoidance) the state. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How sales taxes could boost economic growth
By Dee Gill – The fight against sluggish global economic growth has been expensive, protracted, and unexpectedly vexing, leaving central bankers in developed economies with a laundry list of shared frustrations. Meager economic growth, flagging wages, and low inflation persist, in spite of bankers’ monetary stimuli, and threaten to quash upward mobility for young job seekers and midcareer employees in even the richest countries.

There’s a poster child for what countries do not want to become: Japan. The former economic powerhouse has been stuck in low-growth purgatory since 1991. And yet, as much as they’d like to avoid it, some countries have been sliding in that direction.

Many big economies are stagnating, and economists are running out of options to fix them. The conventional monetary policy for encouraging spending has been to drop short-term interest rates. But with rates already near, at, or below zero, that method is all but exhausted. Some economists have also started to empirically and theoretically question the power of forward guidance, in which central banks publicize plans for future interest-rate policies, at the zero lower bound.

Central banks and governments badly need a new stimulus tool, preferably one that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Some researchers are proposing a fix that might sound unappetizing: raising sales taxes as a means of jump-starting economic growth.

Francesco D’Acunto of the University of Maryland, Daniel Hoang of Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber find evidence that a preannounced tax hike—a 3-percentage-point increase in Germany’s Value Added Tax enacted in 2007—provided just the kind of growth stimulus central banks desperately need today. more>

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Updates from Ciena

AI Ops: Let the data talk
The catalysts and ROI of AI-powered network analytics for automated operations were the focus of discussion for service providers at the recent FutureNet conference in London. Blue Planet’s Marie Fiala details the conversation.
By Marie Fiala – Do we need perfect data? Or is ‘good enough’ data good enough? Certainly, there is a need to find a pragmatic approach or else one could get stalled in analysis-paralysis. Is closed-loop automation the end goal? Or is human-guided open loop automation desired? If the quality of data defines the quality of the process, then for closed-loop automation of critical business processes, one needs near-perfect data. Is that achievable?

These issues were discussed and debated at last week’s FutureNet conference in London, where the show focused on solving network operators’ toughest challenges. Industry presenters and panelists stayed true to the themes of AI and automation, all touting the necessity of these interlinked software technologies, yet there were varied opinions on approaches. Network and service providers such as BT, Colt, Deutsche Telekom, KPN, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, Telia, Telus, Turk Telkom, and Vodafone weighed in on the discussion.

On one point, most service providers were in agreement: there is a need to identify a specific business use case with measurable ROI, as an initial validation point when introducing AI-powered analytics into operations. more>

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All the ways recycling is broken—and how to fix them

You may throw a plastic container in the recycling bin and assume it’s going to easily become a new item. But every step of our recycling system—from product design to collection to sorting—has major flaws. Fortunately, promising technology is starting to come online that could revolutionize the process.
By Adele Peters – You may have read that there’s a recycling crisis in the U.S. After years of accepting our used plastic and cardboard, China now won’t take it, which often means there is no place for it to go. Some city recycling programs—unable to find other buyers—have quietly started sending recyclables to incinerators or landfills, news that could make anyone question the point of separating your trash at all.

Each year, by one estimate, Americans throw out around 22 million tons of products that could have been recycled. Tens of millions of homes don’t have access to recycling; for those that do, everything from broken blenders to old clothing still ends up in the trash. If you drop an empty package in a recycling bin and it’s trucked off to a sorting facility, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will be recycled. You might have unwittingly tossed something that your local recycling service doesn’t accept, or the package might have been designed in a way that makes it unrecyclable.

Some parts of the system do work. The aluminum in a beer can, for example, can easily be made into new beer cans, over and over again. But a plastic package might be chopped up, melted, mixed with other types of plastic, and “downcycled” into a lower-quality material that can only be used for certain products, like park benches or black plastic planters.

When the U.S. was sending much of its paper and plastic trash to China, for more than two decades, the bales were often so poorly sorted that they contained garbage. The system never extracted the full value from those materials.

When a truck picks up recyclables from curbside bins, they take them to sorting facilities. Inside these centers, called “MRFs” or materials recycling facilities, people work with automated equipment to sort through the detritus of everyday life. Trucks dump mixed materials into the facility, where it’s loaded onto a conveyor belt; typically, in a first step, people standing next to the machine quickly pull out trash and materials like plastic bags that can jam equipment.

As materials move through a facility, the system uses gravity, screens, filters, and other techniques to separate out paper, metal, glass, and plastics; optical sorting equipment identifies each type of plastic. more>