Category Archives: Economic development

The exploitation time bomb

Worsening economic inequality in recent years is largely the result of policy choices that reflect the political influence and lobbying power of the rich.
By Jayati Ghosh – Since reducing inequality became an official goal of the international community, income disparities have widened. This trend, typically blamed on trade liberalization and technological advances that have weakened the bargaining power of labor vis-à-vis capital, has generated a political backlash in many countries, with voters blaming their economic plight on ‘others’ rather than on national policies. And such sentiments of course merely aggravate social tensions without addressing the root causes of worsening inequality.

But in an important new article, the Cambridge University economist José Gabriel Palma argues that national income distributions are the result not of impersonal global forces, but rather of policy choices that reflect the control and lobbying power of the rich.

The driving force behind these trends is market inequality, meaning the income distribution before taxes and government transfers. Most OECD countries continually attempt to mitigate this through the tax-and-transfer system, resulting in much lower levels of inequality in terms of disposable income.

But fiscal policy is a complicated and increasingly inefficient way to reduce inequality, because today it relies less on progressive taxation and more on transfers that increase public debt. For example, European Union governments’ spending on social protection, health care and education now accounts for two-thirds of public expenditure, but this is funded by tax policies that let off the rich and big corporations while heavily burdening the middle classes, and by adding to the stock of government debt. more>

Europeanization from below: still time for another Europe?

By Donatella Della Porta – Progressive social movement organizations have long been critical of the European Union—and progressively more so. Yet at the same time they have sought to promote ‘another Europe’.

They Europeanized their organizational networks and action strategies, developing cosmopolitan identities.

Research on social movements and Europeanization had indicated a move away from protest towards advocacy, understood as an adaptation of movements to EU structures. But there was also evidence of a repoliticization of EU issues, which saw the selective use of unconventional, protest-oriented strategies among groups forming part of the GJM (global justice movement).

The increasing criticism of existing EU institutions has targeted their democratic deficit, perceived as worsening during the financial crisis and counterposed to national sovereignty, but also their policies, perceived as less and less driven by considerations of social justice and solidarity. There has been criticism too of the definition of Europe as an exclusive polity, with proposals to go instead ‘beyond Europe’. more>

Why Autonomous Vehicle Developers Are Embracing Open Source

By Chris Wiltz – GM Cruise is turning loose its tool for autonomous vehicle visualization to the open source community for a wider range of applications, including robotics and automation. But its only the latest in a series of similar developments to happen over the course of the year.

This time the General Motors-owned Cruise is open-sourcing Webviz – a web browser-based tool for data visualization in autonomous vehicles and robotics. Webviz is an application capable of managing the petabytes of data from various autonomous vehicle sensors (both in simulation and on the road) and creating 2D and 3D charts, logs, and more in a customizable user interface.

Cruise is making that tool available to engineers in the autonomous vehicle space and beyond. “Now, anyone can drag and drop any [Robot Operating System (ROS)] bag file into Webviz to get immediate visual insight into their robotics data,” Esther Weon, a software engineer at Cruise, wrote in a Medium post.

Difficulties in testing autonomous vehicles have played in a key factor in major automakers rethinking their timetables on the delivery of fully-autonomous vehicles. Simulation is becoming an increasingly common solution in the face of time-consuming real-world road tests. But simulation comes with its own challenges – particularly around data and analysis. A robust autonomous vehicle is going to have to be intelligent enough to navigate and respond to all of the myriad of conditions that a human could encounter – everything from bad weather and road hazards to mechanical failures and even bad drivers.

To create and train vehicles to deal with all of these scenarios requires more data than any one company could feasibly gather on its own in a reasonable time frame.

By open sourcing their tools, companies are looking to leverage the wider community to take part in some of the heavy lifting. more>

The Ideology of Self-interest Caused the Financial Crash. We Need a New Economic Paradigm

By Mark van Vugt and Michael E. Price – We are still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, which started in the US in 2008, and that has now spread to every corner of the world.

The financial crisis should teach us some important lessons about the way economies work and the way we design our organizations. In essence, we have simply made the wrong assumptions about human nature. The leading model in economic theory is that of Homo economicus, a person who makes decisions based on their rational self-interest. Led by an invisible hand, that of the market, the pursuit of self-interest automatically produces the best outcomes for everyone. Looking at the financial crisis today this idea is no longer tenable. When individual greed dominates, everyone suffers. We could have known this all along had we looked more closely at human evolution.

Economic scientists often portray competition between firms as a Darwinian struggle where firms compete and only the fittest ones survive. The British financial historian Niall Ferguson wrote “Left to itself, natural selection should work fast to eliminate the weakest institutions in the market, which typically are gobbled up by the successful.”

This may be true but it is not the outcome of individual greed and competition.

Competition between firms presupposes that individuals cooperate well with each other, and the most cooperative organizations survive, and the least cooperative organizations go extinct. This is group selection, selection operating at the level of groups, where the best groups survive.

This is a far more accurate model of how economies and business operate, and it offers a totally new way of thinking about the design of organizations and ways to avert global financial crises.

A team of evolutionary minded psychologists, biologists and economists led by biologist David Sloan Wilson have come together over the past few years to come up with a more accurate model for how businesses and economies operate. It is based on Homo sapiens rather than Homo economicus. Their efforts are put together in an Evolution Institute report on socially responsible businesses “Doing Well By Doing Good.” more>

Takers and Makers: Who are the Real Value Creators?

By Mariana Mazzucato – We often hear businesses, entrepreneurs or sectors talking about themselves as ‘wealth-creating’. The contexts may differ – finance, big pharma or small start-ups – but the self-descriptions are similar: I am a particularly productive member of the economy, my activities create wealth, I take big ‘risks’, and so I deserve a higher income than people who simply benefit from the spillovers of this activity. But what if, in the end, these descriptions are simply just stories? Narratives created in order to justify inequalities of wealth and income, massively rewarding the few who are able to convince governments and society that they deserve high rewards, while the rest of us make do with the leftovers.

If value is defined by price – set by the supposed forces of supply and demand – then as long as an activity fetches a price (legally), it is seen as creating value. So if you earn a lot you must be a value creator.

I will argue that the way the word ‘value’ is used in modern economics has made it easier for value-extracting activities to masquerade as value-creating activities. And in the process rents (unearned income) get confused with profits (earned income); inequality rises, and investment in the real economy falls.

What’s more, if we cannot differentiate value creation from value extraction, it becomes nearly impossible to reward the former over the latter. If the goal is to produce growth that is more innovation-led (smart growth), more inclusive and more sustainable, we need a better understanding of value to steer us.

This is not an abstract debate.

It has far-reaching consequences – social and political as well as economic – for everyone. How we discuss value affects the way all of us, from giant corporations to the most modest shopper, behave as actors in the economy and in turn feeds back into the economy, and how we measure its performance. This is what philosophers call ‘performativity’: how we talk about things affects behavior, and in turn how we theorize things. In other words, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we cannot define what we mean by value, we cannot be sure to produce it, nor to share it fairly, nor to sustain economic growth. The understanding of value, then, is critical to all the other conversations we need to have about where our economy is going and how to change its course. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How to curb short-termism and boost the US economy
End the requirement for quarterly reporting
By Haresh Sapra – The United States is in the middle of that rarest of events: a public conversation on accounting standards. Since 1970, public companies in the US have been required to report quarterly. The Securities and Exchange Commission is now considering changing that frequency to biannual reporting, and in December 2018 issued a request for public comment on the matter.

Admittedly, the issue isn’t exactly igniting the passions of the masses, but the implications of these discussions could significantly affect the US economy. For the first time in many years, policy makers are seriously reconsidering the rules on corporate financial reporting. The SEC is examining how to change the system to lighten the burdens on corporations, and to reduce what it calls the “overly short-term focus by managers” of listed companies.

My research suggests there would be great benefits to the US ending mandatory quarterly reporting. It would help to kick-start innovation among US companies, for one. That should be of particular interest to the SEC, which stated in its request that it is interested in how the current system “may affect corporate decision making and strategic thinking.” more>

Related>

As U.S. expansion notches record, recovery may have only just begun

By Howard Schneider – It was only last year that U.S. gross domestic product caught up with estimates of its potential, surpassing where Congressional Budget Office analysts feel it would have been if the housing bubble hadn’t burst in 2007, investment bank Lehman Brothers hadn’t failed the following year, and the world had not cratered into a deep recession.

The periods when GDP exceeds potential are typically when workers enjoy the greatest wage gains and members of historically sidelined communities find jobs. In recent years, those periods have not lasted long, a fact that Fed and other officials are wrestling with as they weigh possible interest rate cuts and assess just where the U.S. economy now stands.

The approach of the decade-long expansion mark has boosted speculation about how much longer the recovery might last, whether a recession is inevitable in the next couple of years, and whether the Fed and U.S. government are adequately prepared to fight another downturn.

For the type of progress Fed and elected officials feel is needed to rebuild middle-class incomes, it may take several more years.

But the environment has changed.

In the short-term, global trade disputes and other risks could slow the economy no matter what the Fed does. more>

Related>

Updates from Siemens

Revolutionizing Plant Performance with the Digital Twin and IIoT eBook
By Jim Brown – How can manufacturers use the digital twin and industrial IoT to dramatically improve manufacturing and product performance?

The manufacturing industries are getting more challenging. Manufacturers must evolve as new technologies remove barriers to entry and enable new, digital players to challenge market share. Operational efficiency is no longer enough to compete in today’s era of digitalization and Industry 4.0.

To remain competitive, companies have to maintain high productivity while offering unprecedented levels of flexibility and responsiveness. We believe this is a fundamental disruption that will change the status quo. To survive, manufacturers need to digitalize operations in order to improve speed, agility, quality, costs, customer satisfaction, and the ability to tailor to customer and market needs.

One of the most compelling digitalization opportunities is adopting the digital twin. This approach combines a number of digital technologies to significantly improve quality and productivity. It starts with comprehensive, virtual models of physical assets – products and production lines – to help optimize designs. But the value is much greater because the physical and virtual twins are connected and kept in sync with real data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT).

Further, companies can use analytics to analyze digital twin data to develop deep insights and intelligence that allow for real-time intervention and long-term, continuous improvement.

The digital twin holds significant productivity and quality opportunities for the plant. It can be used to understand when the plant isn’t operating as intended. It can identify or predict equipment issues that can result in unplanned downtime or correct process deviations before they result in quality slippage, scrap, and rework. more>

Related>

Updates from Georgia Tech

He Quieted Deafening Jets
By Ben Brumfield – In 1969, the roar of a passing jet airliner broke a bone in Carolyn Brobrek’s inner ear, as she sat in the living room of her East Boston home. Many flights took off too close to rooftops then, but even at a distance, jet engines were a notorious source of permanent hearing loss.

For decades, Krishan Ahuja tamed jet noise, for which the National Academy of Engineering elected him as a new member this year. Today, Ahuja is an esteemed researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he got his start more than 50 years ago as an engineering apprentice in Rolls Royce’s aero-engine division, eventually landing in its jet noise research department.

Jet-setters had been a rare elite, but early in Ahuja’s career in the 1970s, air travel went mainstream, connecting the globe. The number of flights multiplied over the years, and jet engine thrust grew stronger, but remarkably, human exposure to passenger jet noise in the same time period plummeted to a fraction of what it had once been, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ahuja not only had a major hand in it, he also has felt the transition himself.

“In those days, if jets went over your house and you were outside, you’d feel like you needed to put your hands over your ears. Not today,” said Ahuja, who is a Regents Researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. more>

Related>

>

A radical legal ideology nurtured our era of economic inequality

By Sanjukta Paul – Where does economic power come from? Does it exist independently of the law?

It seems obvious, even undeniable, that the answer is no. Law creates, defines and enforces property rights. Law enforces private contracts. It charters corporations and shields investors from liability. Law declares illegal certain contracts of economic cooperation between separate individuals – which it calls ‘price-fixing’ – but declares economically equivalent activity legal when it takes place within a business firm or is controlled by one.

Each one of these is a choice made by the law, on behalf of the public as a whole. Each of them creates or maintains someone’s economic power, and often undermines someone else’s. Each also plays a role in maintaining a particular distribution of economic power across society.

Yet generations of lawyers and judges educated at law schools in the United States have been taught to ignore this essential role of law in creating and sustaining economic power.

Instead, we are taught that the social process of economic competition results in certain outcomes that are ‘efficient’ – and that anything the law does to alter those outcomes is its only intervention.

These peculiar presumptions flow from the enormously powerful and influential ‘law and economics’ movement that dominates thinking in most areas of US law considered to be within the ‘economic’ sphere.

Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, recently called law and economics the most influential thing in legal education since the founding of Harvard Law School.

The Economics Institute for Federal Judges, founded by the legal scholar Henry Manne, has been a hugely influential training program in the law and economics approach. more>