Category Archives: Economic development

A world-class long jump to a more social Europe

By Patricia Scherer – Who would not like to go to a free public school in Finland or buy their groceries at a local cooperative in Italy?

Who would not want to receive quality community-based support for their grandparent suffering from dementia in some remote rural village, following the Swedish model?

Which working parent would not want to have access to all-day childcare, as in France?

And breathe in fresh air in a buzzling downtown, is the case in car-free Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital?

Who would refuse the support, rather than stigmatization, that the Danish flexicurity system provides to laid-off workers?

Would you not want to vote electronically from home, as in Estonia?

Or take part in the Irish citizens’ assembly to decide on legal and policy issues facing the society you live in today?

All that is Europe; all those are benchmarks to aspire to. more> https://goo.gl/qXmAUX

Machine envy

By Philip Ball – The tools of science are so specialised that we accept them as a kind of occult machinery for producing knowledge. We figure that they must know how it all works. Likewise, histories of science focus on ideas rather than methods — for the most part, readers just want to know what the discoveries were.

Even so, most historians these days recognise that the relationship between scientists and their instruments is an essential part of the story. It isn’t simply that the science is dependent on the devices; the devices actually determine what is known. You explore the things that you have the means to explore, planning your questions accordingly.

Today, however, they have become symbols of prestige as never before. I have several times been invited to admire the most state-of-the-art device in a laboratory purely for its own sake, as though I was being shown a Lamborghini.

One of the dysfunctional consequences of this sort of attitude is that the machine becomes its own justification, its own measure of worth. Results seem ‘important’ not because of what they tell us but because of how they were obtained. more> https://goo.gl/4HQWRQ

How to Avoid a Tech Counterrevolution

By Leonid Bershidsky – It’s easy to laugh at a juice squeezer produced by a relatively small startup, whose real competence is in making fancy fruit-and-vegetable packets. It’s not really problem-solving tech; it’s a money-raising gimmick.

The problem is deeper though. Musk, a slicker marketer than Zuckerberg, talks about initially releasing a technology that would help people with brain damage — from strokes, for example.

Facebook is talking about “sharing thoughts,” hitting precisely on the most worrying aspects of the nascent technology: Who wants to share uncensored thoughts, especially with a company that collects information about its users without explaining to them exactly what is harvested? Who wants to give a machine built by a corporate entity access to one’s brain?

Tasks that desperately need automation and tech solutions are narrow. Thinking smaller and applying resources and energy to narrow, specific problems could be a good chance to build trust before it disappears entirely. more> https://goo.gl/MEm63N

What a State-Owned Bank Can Do for New Jersey

By Ellen Brown – Consider the possibilities, for example, for funding infrastructure. Like most states today, New Jersey suffers from serious budget problems, limiting its ability to make needed improvements. By funding infrastructure through its own bank, the state can cut infrastructure costs roughly in half, since 50 percent of the cost of infrastructure, on average, is financing.

Again, a state-owned bank can do this by leveraging its capital, with any shortfall covered very cheaply in the wholesale markets. In effect, the state can borrow at bankers’ rates of 1 percent or less, rather than at market rates of 4 to 6 percent for taxable infrastructure bonds (not to mention the roughly 12 percent return expected by private equity investors).  The state can borrow at 1 percent and turn a profit even if it lends for local development at only 2 percent—one-half to two-thirds below bond market rates.

That is the rate at which North Dakota lends for infrastructure. In 2015, the state legislature established a BND Infrastructure Loan Fund program that made $150 million available to local communities for a wide variety of infrastructure needs. These loans have a 2 percent fixed interest rate and a term of up to 30 years; and the 2 percent goes back to the State of North Dakota, so it’s a win-win-win for local residents.

The BND is able to make these cheap loans while still turning a tidy profit because its costs are very low: no exorbitantly-paid executives; no bonuses, fees, or commissions; very low borrowing costs; no need for multiple branch offices; no FDIC insurance premiums; no private shareholders. Profits are recycled back into the bank, the state and the community. more> https://goo.gl/QrGLBD

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Organizing to Learn, Learning to Organize


By Chris Brooks & Susan Williams – Traditional education is about banking: I am an expert, I have banked this information, and I am going to pour it in your head—and you are going to tell me back what I told you.

So when people face problems, their first thought is, “I need to go and find a lawyer!” They think they have to rely on others, who have the right kind of knowledge, to solve their problems. Now we head straight to the Internet and Google. We are not encouraged to think that we have the capacity to change things ourselves.

Popular education involves passing on skills and content in a collective way; it’s based on the belief that people can do more than they think they can. Good organizing provides people with the ability to learn together and grow. So these processes are connected. more> https://goo.gl/zXQr1h

The internet of (economic) things

By Jonathan Sallet – Robert Gordon argues that, with the exception of a decade starting in the mid-1990s, information networks have not driven productivity in the way that electricity transformed the American manufacturing sector in the 20th Century. But some believe now that IoT (internet of things) can boost productivity growth by increasing the efficiency of traditional business operations such as manufacturing, transportation, and retail. Whether the United States can return to historical productivity growth levels is critical to the American economy.

IoT standards raise a series of policy questions: Are industry standards being set in a pro-competitive fashion?

Are companies complying with their obligations under standards (a question featured in an analogous context in the recent Federal Trade Commission complaint against Qualcomm)?

And what kind of role should government play in establishing the standards at the outset? more> https://goo.gl/p3Zwph

Raising good robots

We already have a way to teach morals to alien intelligences: it’s called parenting. Can we apply the same methods to robots?
By Regina Rini – Philosophers and computer scientists alike tend to focus on the difficulty of implementing subtle human morality in literal-minded machines. But there’s another problem, one that really ought to come first. It’s the question of whether we ought to try to impose our own morality on intelligent machines at all. In fact, I’d argue that doing so is likely to be counterproductive, and even unethical. The real problem of robot morality is not the robots, but us.

Can we handle sharing the world with a new type of moral creature?

We like to imagine that artificial intelligence (AI) will be similar to humans, because we are the only advanced intelligence we know. But we are probably wrong. If and when AI appears, it will probably be quite unlike us. It might not reason the way we do, and we could have difficulty understanding its choices.

Plato’s student Aristotle disagreed. He thought that each sort of thing in the world – squirrels, musical instruments, humans – has a distinct nature, and the best way for each thing to be is a reflection of its own particular nature.

‘Morality’ is a way of describing the best way for humans to be, and it grows out of our human nature. For Aristotle, unlike Plato, morality is something about us, not something outside us to which we must conform. Moral education, then, was about training children to develop abilities already in their nature. more> https://goo.gl/cVSt0W

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Why Most Government Reform Plans Die

BOOK REVIEW

Working With Culture: the Way the Job Gets Done In Public Programs, Author: Anne Khademian.

By Howard Risher – “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” That quote is credited to the father of modern management, Peter Drucker. He was saying that leaders need to understand and address their organization’s culture in their planning.

Writers tell us that culture encompasses the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. It sets forth the rules—unspoken and unwritten—for working together.

It’s relevant to reform because it governs behavior in work groups. It influences virtually every interaction of people in performing their jobs. It affects the time they start work, their tolerance for sexist comments, the way they deal with customers—everything.

Culture plays an important role in every successful organization. More than a few writers have argued that it would be great if government could develop a performance culture. That’s one where employees are committed to achieving results. Employees in high performing companies are energized by the culture. It’s reinforced by their reward and recognition practices. more> https://goo.gl/AiEOKL

America Needs the World

The U.S. is heading toward a trade war it cannot win.
By Tavis Jules – President Donald Trump ended his address to a joint session of Congress by saying “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”

Trump’s job as de facto representative of the world is a byproduct of post-World War II era restructuring that ushered in over seventy years of American dominance and greatness while allowing America to significantly influence and shape educational development priorities, agendas and directives of global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

Since the 1980s, the mantra of open markets has equated to open educational systems in the name of democratic governance and transition. In line with Washington Consensus principles of deregulated labor markets, privatization of nationalized industries, and openness to trade under the banner of ‘saving’ national education and preparing a new generation of global workers to exploit their untapped capital, governments have been slowly opening their educational markets to all forms of trade and services.

These neoliberal policies crystallized in 1995 when the U.S.-led WTO in its General Agreement on Trade in Services identified education as one of 12 tradable services, under the movement of natural persons. Thus, education became subjected to global trade and commercial rules.

Trump’s congressional message of not knowing the full scope of what his job is or should be, highlights the narrowness which is fed through his policy advisers, who too often apply established models to current circumstances, rather than considering the radical reinterpretations of the issues.

In today’s overly interconnected world, the U.S. is heading towards a trade war it cannot win; America needs the world, but the world does not need America when the emerging and frontier markets show such promise. more> https://goo.gl/6Tyf03

Updates from Chicago Booth

Can we save retirement?
What the US and other countries can learn about social security reform
By Alex Verkhivker – When it comes to pension crises, American workers are not alone. In the United Kingdom, many of the country’s almost 6,000 employer-sponsored, defined-benefit programs are underfunded.

In Greece, Poland, and across the European continent, a demographic mismatch means there are not enough incoming taxes to fund promised payouts.

Privatization is often suggested as a solution to pension crises. Rather than have governments or employers fund workers’ retirements, why not give retirees more control over funding their retirements, with private individual accounts?

Many critics of privatization are quick to point to Chile as a cautionary tale. The Chilean government privatized its pension system in 1980, its secretary of labor and social security inspired by Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom.

In Mexico, money is automatically deducted from workers’ wages and placed in individual accounts. Then individuals choose from a menu of assets in which to invest and work through regulated, professional money managers, each of which offers a single investment product.

But competition did not materialize as the government had hoped it would. Hastings, Hortaçsu, and Syverson looked at where investors lived, which fund managers they invested with, how much money they saved—and earned after fees. They find that while many people expected competition to drive down costs, the average asset-weighted load was a steep 23 percent, and balance fees were another 0.63 percent. Those fees ate away—a lot—at returns. more> https://goo.gl/usSmNP

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