Category Archives: Economy

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

Related>

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

The End of Men? Not in the Retail Sector

By Virginia Postrel – The collapse of traditional retailing reverses a much-heralded trend: Jobs that involve working with things are disappearing, while those that demand a winning personality — celebrated as “emotional intelligence” — are growing.

Men lose while women win, especially at the bottom of the educational and income ladder.

Contrary to the feminine triumphalism that declares traditionally male skills obsolete, the economy is full of surprises and cross-currents. In the retailing world, demand for people-pleasing sales clerks is down.

Like capital-intensive factories, warehouses with robot assistants make workers more productive and hence more valuable. In Amazon’s cutting-edge facilities, they complement human skills. more> https://goo.gl/RNMzln

Related>

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

Related>

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

Updates from Adobe

Take 10: Zesty
By Terri Stone – As with our previous Take 10 Challenges, we gave the duo ten images and a theme—in this case, the word zesty. True to form, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree rewrote the challenge rules, rejecting some of the original images and choosing others. “Questioning the brief is always going to lead you to more interesting places,” Jeffree says.

They began the challenge by contemplating the meaning of zesty. “It speaks to energy and food, and we eat a lot and have a lot of energy,” cracks Jeffree. Sobierajski adds, “It resonates with our personalities. It’s a little zingy.”

The designers usually include physical elements in their work, even when the final deliverables are digital. It was clear from their initial sketch that the Take 10 challenge would be no exception.

Sobierajski and Jeffree envisioned a dimensional abstract landscape, taking structural inspiration from Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Oskar Schlemmer, and working with ideas of Cubism, Dada, Bauhaus, and modernism. They identified new Adobe Stock assets that fit their notions of what zesty means; then they moved on to building the abstract shapes out of thick foam core covered in clay. They also designed suits that would render their bodies as abstract as the set. more> https://goo.gl/xPDk95

Related>