Tag Archives: Government

Moral technology

Self-driving cars don’t drink and medical AIs are never overtired. Given our obvious flaws, what can humans still do best?
By Paula Boddington – Artificial intelligence (AI) might have the potential to change how we approach tasks, and what we value. If we are using AI to do our thinking for us, employing AI might atrophy our thinking skills.

The AI we have at the moment is narrow AI – it can perform only selected, specific tasks. And even when an AI can perform as well as, or better than, humans at certain tasks, it does not necessarily achieve these results in the same way that humans do. One thing that AI is very good at is sifting through masses of data at great speed.

Using machine learning, an AI that’s been trained with thousands of images can develop the capacity to recognize a photograph of a cat (an important achievement, given the predominance of pictures of cats on the internet). But humans do this very differently. A small child can often recognize a cat after just one example.

Because AI might ‘think’ differently to how humans think, and because of the general tendency to get swept up in its allure, its use could well change how we approach tasks and make decisions. The seductive allure that tends to surround AI in fact represents one of its dangers. Those working in the field despair that almost every article about AI hypes its powers, and even those about banal uses of AI are illustrated with killer robots.

It’s important to remember that AI can take many forms, and be applied in many different ways, so none of this is to argue that using AI will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In some cases, AI might nudge us to improve our approach. But in others, it could reduce or atrophy our approach to important issues. It might even skew how we think about values.

We can get used to technology very swiftly. Change-blindness and fast adaptation to technology can mean we’re not fully aware of such cultural and value shifts. more>

Kavanaugh Ethics Complaints Once Again Dodge Ruling In The 10th Circuit

By Steve Denning – The judicial review of multiple ethics complaints against Justice Kavanaugh continued on its Gilbert-And-Sullivan trajectory with a 6-1 decision by the 10th Circuit last Friday that that court does not have jurisdiction to consider the complaints, even though Chief Justice Roberts explicitly requested the 10th  Circuit to assess them.

Some 83 ethics complaints had been filed against Judge Kavanaugh alleging not only false statements under oath during hearings on his nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004 and 2006, but also, more flagrantly, misconduct at the nomination hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court itself in 2018, including making inappropriate partisan statements and treating senators with disrespect.

The complaints were not made without legal basis. More than 2,400 law professors concluded that during the Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh has “displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court.” Unlike the allegations of lying about events that happened many years ago, there was no question of fact as to whether Kavanaugh’s conduct at the Senate hearings actually took place: it was visible for the whole country to see on national television.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also stated that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated bias and is “not fit for the Supreme Court.” Former Justice Stevens, in remarks to retirees in Boca Raton, Fla, declared that Kavanaugh’s statements on September 27 revealed prejudices that would make it impossible for him to do the court’s work. “They suggest that he has demonstrated a potential bias involving enough potential litigants before the court that he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities.” more>

To end poverty, think like a spy

By Paul M. Bisca – For anyone working to end poverty, fragile states call for the ultimate juggling act. Countries in conflict seldom control their territories, and even when most areas are at peace, others may still be engulfed by violence for decades to come.

The intensity of civil wars can ebb and flow, while forcibly displaced people cross borders in search of shelter. Politicians and warlords can shift alliances abruptly and neighboring states often interfere militarily to prop up local proteges.

When geopolitics is not at play, internal disputes over land, water, or other scarce resources can ignite fighting between local populations. To make sense of all these moving parts, even the most knowledgeable experts must look for new ways to comprehend the world.

What can be done?

To better manage the unknown, development professionals might want to take a leaf from the intelligence community book and draw inspiration from how spies try to predict the future. Reduced to its simplest terms, the CIA defines intelligence as “knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decisions by policymakers.”

Other definitions emphasize the collection, processing, integration, analysis, and interpretation of available information from closed and open sources.

Development practitioners are not spies, nor should they aspire to be. Further, the idea that project managers and economists should behave like spies is bound to raise eyebrows for professionals driven by the quest for sustainability and equity.

Yet, the methodology of intelligence is well-suited to paint in our minds the interplay of actions, information, and analysis needed to navigate the complex, uncertain, and downright dangerous environments where extreme poverty stubbornly persists.

This approach is not about acting like James Bond, but rather about thinking like him. more>

How Politics Delayed A Boeing Fix And Endangered Public Safety

By Steve Denning – This is an abrupt change for the Trump administration.

Just last night, the Acting Administrator of the FAA, Daniel K. Elwell, had doubled down on keeping the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the air, stating that his agency’s extensive review of “aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX… shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, after a call with President Trump, had also declared his complete faith in the plane’s safety.

Trust in a crisis depends on truth-telling—something the current administration is not renowned for, with almost 10,000 false or misleading statements from the president alone.

In this case, the FAA statement last night did not disclose that five pilots had already raised serious concerns about the 737 MAX 8 in the federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.

Instead, the FAA statement said, “Other nations’ civil-aviation authorities had not provided data to us that would warrant action.” Yet Elwell didn’t have to look to foreign civil aviation authorities for such evidence. There was such evidence, right here at home, as reported in the Dallas Morning News.

The FAA statement also did not disclose that Boeing had already issued an emergency airworthiness directive about the Boeing 737 Max 8 in response to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia. The directive “was prompted by analysis performed by the manufacturer showing that if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer.”

Nor did the FAA statement disclose that Boeing and the FAA had been working together for some months to deal with the possibility that the Indonesia crash was caused by a malfunction of its stabilization system.

While it is reassuring the U.S. has finally taken action to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9, the sequence of events points to institutional issues in aviation safety generally. more>

Time for a red shift from Germany’s ‘black zero’

By Peter Bofinger – If our children and grandchildren look back on the present day in 30 years, they will wonder how it was that such a civilised country as the United Kingdom could actually entertain leaving the European Union and robbing itself of its economic and political prospects.

In Germany they could ask the question why the land of poets and thinkers came up with the idea of ​​blindly sacrificing itself to the ideology of the ‘black zero’.

How could it be that Germany deliberately renounced investments in the future—and even believed that in doing so it was doing future generations a favor?

The German social-democrat party (SPD) is currently correcting mistakes from the past. This applies in particular to the 2005 ‘Hartz IV’ labor-market reform proposed by the eponymous commission, chaired by the personnel director of Volkswagen, established when Gerard Schröder was SPD chancellor. It has been celebrated as a great success for many years. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to resemble the fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes.

Today, Germany has a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product of 56 per cent, which is already below the 60 per cent threshold set by the Maastricht treaty. It is considerably below the level of the other G7 countries: Japan has the highest debt at 237 per cent of GDP, followed by Italy (129 per cent), the United States (108), France (96), the United Kingdom (87) and Canada (85).

Economics has so far failed to derive convincingly an upper limit on the debt-to-GDP ratio. more>

What Happens When You Believe in Ayn Rand and Modern Economic Theory

The reality of unfettered self-interest
By Denise Cummins – “Ayn Rand is my hero,” yet another student tells me during office hours. “Her writings freed me. They taught me to rely on no one but myself.”

As I look at the freshly scrubbed and very young face across my desk, I find myself wondering why Rand’s popularity among the young continues to grow.

The core of Rand’s philosophy — which also constitutes the overarching theme of her novels — is that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive. This, she believed, is the ultimate expression of human nature, the guiding principle by which one ought to live one’s life. In “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” Rand put it this way:

Collectivism is the tribal premise of primordial savages who, unable to conceive of individual rights, believed that the tribe is a supreme, omnipotent ruler, that it owns the lives of its members and may sacrifice them whenever it pleases.

By this logic, religious and political controls that hinder individuals from pursuing self-interest should be removed.

The fly in the ointment of Rand’s philosophical “objectivism” is the plain fact that humans have a tendency to cooperate and to look out for each other, as noted by many anthropologists who study hunter-gatherers. These “prosocial tendencies” were problematic for Rand, because such behavior obviously mitigates against “natural” self-interest and therefore should not exist. more>

Debunking Deregulation: Bank Credit Guidance and Productive Investment

Deregulated banking in rich countries delivers more “investment” in speculative asset markets, not productive businesses.
By Josh Ryan-Collins – Mortgage and other asset-market lending typically does not generate income streams sufficient to finance the growth of debt. Instead, the empirical evidence suggests that after a certain point relative to GDP, increases in mortgage debt typically slows growth and increase financial instability as asset prices rise faster than incomes.

These new empirical findings support a much older body of theory that argues that credit markets, left to their own devices, will not optimize the allocation of resources.

Instead, following Joseph Schumpeter’s, Keynes’ and Hyman Minsky’s arguments, they will tend to shift financial resources away from real-sector investment and innovation and towards asset markets and speculation; away from equitable income growth and towards capital gains that polarizes wealth and income; and away from a robust, stable growth path and towards fragile boom-busts cycles with frequent crises.

This means, we argue, there is a strong case for regulation, including via instruments that guide credit. In fact, from the end of World War II up to the 1980s, most advanced economy central banks and finance ministries routinely used forms of credit guidance as the norm, rather than the exception. These include instruments that effected both the demand for credit for specific sectors (e.g. Loan-to-Value ratios or subsidies) and the supply of credit (e.g. credit ceilings or quotas and interest rate limits).

In Europe, favored sectors typically included exports, farming and manufacturing, while repressed sectors were imports, the service sector, and household mortgages and consumption. Indeed, commercial banks in many advanced economies were effectively restricted from entering the residential mortgage market up until the 1980s. Public institutions — state investment banks and related bodies — were also created to specifically steer credit towards desired sectors. more>

The great tax debate—the world is turning

When intellectual and moral arguments align, the global climate can change quickly. That’s what’s happening with the US tax debate.
By Atanas Pekanov and Miriam Rehm – Policy proposals by lawmakers in the United States have spurred a hotly contested debate on taxation among economists in recent weeks. The Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued that the US needed to raise additional revenue by going back to marginal top-income tax rates of up to 70 per cent to fund social programs and a Green New Deal, while the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a wealth tax of up to 3 per cent on the richest.

While opponents and some commentators have deemed such proposals radical or ideological, both are buttressed by economic research. Economists largely seem to agree on some basic facts: inequality within the US has been rising and the benefits of growth have accrued largely to the top 1 per cent, while the real incomes of what in America is called the middle class have stagnated over the past three decades.

There is also consensus that the progressivity of the income-tax system has been eroded in many countries since 1980 and that wealth is currently much more unequally distributed than income.

The recent economic debate has thus revolved around whether higher taxes on top incomes or for very wealthy people should be deployed to counteract these trends. American progressives argue that higher revenues are needed if the US aspires to become more like the role-model European welfare state, with more inclusive social systems and better public services, financed by top marginal income-tax rates of above 40 per cent (in most EU countries) and/or some form of wealth tax. While some have misrepresented these ideas, they would only burden very wealthy individuals. more>

European Parliament elections—battle for ‘Europe’s soul’?

The European Parliament election campaign is entering full swing—a detailed analysis of the platforms of the main European party groups and what the political consequences might be for the EU over the next five years.
By Miriam Sorace – In his speech at the December congress of the Party of European Socialists, Frans Timmermans, the current lead candidate for the PES, defined these elections as being about ‘the soul of Europe’. Eurosceptic forces made important gains in the 2014 election and are set to increase their seat share again in the upcoming one.

Overtly pro-European forces also seem set to make important gains in electoral support, and new pro-European forces are also forming (for example, the Italian More Europe party or the pan-European Volt). As overt position-taking over EU institutions and powers starts to even up (while in the past it was monopolized by anti-EU actors), we may be finally entering the era of EU political contestation.

Rocked by forces that want, respectively, less and more Europe, the 2019 election results have thus the potential to define the nature of the EU for years to come.

The member states are still responsible for the running of European Parliament (EP) elections, but national parties (especially the more established ones) will signal their Euro-party or European Party Group (EPG) affiliation during the campaign. EPGs are ‘umbrella organizations’ joined by ideologically-similar national parties to coordinate their EP activities.

Some EPGs are well-oiled machines, such as the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D, formerly PES)—founded, respectively, in 1976 and 1973. Others are of very recent establishment, such as the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group, created by radical-right Eurosceptic parties in the aftermath of the 2014 elections. Being part of an EPG has its advantages: it makes it easier for a national party to get rapporteurships, speaking time and committee chairmanships (as well as funding for administration/staff). more>

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Faith and Religion in Public Life Are Not Replacements for Reform

By Chayenne Polimédio – Last week, religious leaders, humanitarians, and politicians came together at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a fellowship breakfast “in the spirit of Jesus.” The National Prayer Breakfast, held every year since 1953, is one of those moments—now rarer by the day—when political strife and division ostensibly take a back seat to prayer, calls for unity, and reminders of our shared identities. It’s also a reminder of how faith and public life are intertwined in a country where 70 percent of the population is Christian, and where the public’s trust in the church has always been greater than its trust in government.

But one need only think about recent headlines detailing a racist attack, a homophobic remark, or even broader political pettiness to question the extent to which the breaking of bread is enough to overcome the record-breaking level of division in American democracy.

The National Prayer Breakfast, in other words, is a reminder not of what kinds of positive changes faith is able to effect in public life, but of the kinds of changes it isn’t able to bring about. more>