In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
A Grim Bargain: Tax breaks, cheap land, and cheap labor make the American South attractive to foreign companies. Workers don't benefit.
Rewrite the rules to benefit everyone, not just the wealthy - "If there's one thing Joseph Stiglitz wants to say about inequality, it's that it has been a choice, not an unexpected, unfortunate economic outcome. That's unnerving, but it also means that citizens and politicians have the opportunity to fix the problem before it gets worse." (via) [more inside]
Joe Stiglitz on Inequality, Wealth, and Growth: Why Capitalism is Failing (video; if you don't have 30m, skip to 20m for discussion of political inequality, wealth, credit and monetary policy) - "If the very rich can use their position to get higher returns, more investment information, more extraction of rents, and if the very rich have equal or higher savings rates, then wealth will become more concentrated... economic inequality inevitably gets translated into political inequality, and political inequality gets translated into more economic inequality. The basic and really important idea here is that markets don't exist in a vacuum, that market economies operate according to certain rules, certain regulations that specify how they work. And those effect the efficiency of those markets, but they also effect how the fruits of the benefits of those markets are distributed and the result of that is there are large numbers of aspects of our basic economic framework that in recent years have worked to increase the inequality of wealth and income in our society... leading to a society which can be better described, increasingly, as an inherited plutocracy." [more inside]
The political economy of a universal basic income: "your view of what is feasible should not be backwards looking. The normalization of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana seemed utopian and politically impossible until very recently. Yet in fact those developments are happening, and their expansion is almost inevitable given the demographics of ideology... UBI — defined precisely as periodic transfers of identical fixed dollar amounts to all citizens of the polity — is by far the most probable and politically achievable among policies that might effectively address problems of inequality, socioeconomic fragmentation, and economic stagnation." [more inside]
We’re all familiar with the stories of Russian oligarchs buying up mansions in London, but this is a much broader phenomenon. A torrent of capital from wealthy people in emerging markets—from China, above all, but also from Latin America, Russia, and the Middle East—has flowed into the real-estate markets of big cities in other countries, driving up prices and causing a luxury-construction boom. ... The globalization of real estate upends some of our basic assumptions about housing prices. We expect them to reflect local fundamentals—above all, how much people earn. In a truly global market, that may not be the case.James Surowiecki writing in the New Yorker on the rise of a truly global market in real estate.
VC for the people - "It's just that people who have options are much more likely to actually find success than people who don't." [more inside]
From the mid 40s to the mid 50s Coronet Instructional Films were always ready to provide social guidance for teenagers on subjects as diverse as dating, popularity, preparing for being drafted, and shyness, as well as to children on following the law, the value of quietness in school, and appreciating our parents. They also provided education on topics such as the connection between attitudes and health, what kind of people live in America, how to keep a job, supervising women workers, the nature of capitalism, and the plantation System in Southern life. Inside is an annotated collection of all 86 of the complete Coronet films in the Prelinger Archives as well as a few more. Its not like you had work to do or anything right? [more inside]
Trade-offs between inequality, productivity, and employment - "The poor do not employ one another, because the necessities they require are produced and sold so cheaply by the rich. The rich are glad to sell to the poor, as long as the poor can come up with property or debt claims or other forms of insurance to offer as payment..." [more inside]
“You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.” Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher of the NY Times give an in-depth report on Apple's migration of electronics manufacturing to Asia and its impact on middle class Americans.
Made in America: small businesses buck the offshoring trend - "For US manufacturing to make sense, factories must make extensive use of automation. That's getting easier, given that the cost of robots with comparable capabilities has decreased precipitously in the past two decades." [more inside]
In a pinch, upgrade the humans or redistribute the robots - "[S]uppose [as a factory owner] I replace all my workers with machines... This squeeze has many implications, one of them being that here is an important sector of the economy in which more or less all the gains accrue to the owners of capital and more or less none to the working class..." [more inside]
Burial & Flight I BEGAN THIS SERIES TEN YEARS AGO in rural Kenya. When I started photographing, I thought I was working on a localized story about how HIV was destroying African society. Over the years, as I broadened my travels to China and Mexico, I began to see similarities in the composition of villages wherever I went. Only later did I fully realize that the quiet moments I documented in the African bush, Mexican plains, and majestic Chinese mountains represented small pieces of a great shift.
Hans Rosling [previously, previously] compares the health and wealth of 200 countries over 200 years in 4 minutes using the best infographic ever. Interactive Flash version here.
Solidarity Economics. (pdf) Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out. [more inside]
Silicon Sweatshops is a five-part investigation of the supply chains that produce many of the world’s most popular technology products, from Apple iPhones, to Nokia cell phones, Dell keyboards and more. The series examines the scope of the problem, including its effects on workers from the Philippines, Taiwan and China. It also looks at a novel factory program that may be a blueprint for solving this perennial industry problem.
Adam Smith in Beijing Embedded Flash film 1hr59mins "Is US power in decline? What are we to make of the rise of China? Will a possible equalization of North-South relations herald a more brutal capitalism or a better world? Giovanni Arrighi, Joel Andreas, and David Harvey give their perspectives in this forum, for a discussion of Arrighi's 2007 book Adam Smith in Beijing. The event, filmed in Baltimore, MD, in March of 2008, was organized by the Red Emma's collective."
Waving Goodbye to Hegemony. "Just a few years ago, America’s hold on global power seemed unshakable. But a lot has changed while we’ve been in Iraq — and the next president is going to be dealing with not only a triumphant China and a retooled Europe but also the quiet rise of a 'second world.'" [Via The Washington Note.]
The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive? "China's rise will inevitably bring the United States' unipolar moment to an end. But that does not necessarily mean a violent power struggle or the overthrow of the Western system. The U.S.-led international order can remain dominant even while integrating a more powerful China -- but only if Washington sets about strengthening that liberal order now." [more inside]
"Pro-environmental nations experience better economic outcomes on several measures, controlling for other factors, than nations with lax environmental policies."
Environmentalism, globalization and national economies, 1980-2000 [Schofer and Granados in Social Forces, Dec 06] Triple-punch! (1) "We find no impact of environmentalism on foreign investment and trade. Firms and investment do not appear to be fleeing countries with strong environmental standards." (2) "While it is common to assume that environmentalism targets industry, the agricultural sector may be [negatively] affected more significantly." (2) "[S]ociologists influenced by world-system theory [posit that] the relationship between environmentalism and growth could be spurious: environmentalism does not cause growth, but rather coincides with the economic success of core nations. However, broader results do not support this."
"The church of global free trade, which rules American politics with infallible pretensions, may have finally met its Martin Luther." A thorough summary in The Nation of the brilliant but ignored Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests by Ralph Gomory, former IBM Senior Vice President for Science and winner of the National Medal of Science. His heresy? Arguing, with supporting technical and economic data, that multinational corporations and their home countries have divergent interests in shipping skilled labor and advanced technologies overseas, and that this "divergence" is a net negative for the American economy and the American public. Globalization, he argues, has its losers, the United States paramount among them.
The International Networks Archive is an effort by a group of sociologists to understand 2,000 years of globalization through mapping the network of transactions that link the world, rather than geography. The project is still ongoing, but you can see some of the results: an interactive map that uses travel time to visualize the world; a graphic of the growth of Starbucks and McDonalds; the distribution of government jobs (apparently the 3,412 postal inspectors can carry firearms); the cashflows of movies and tobacco; and, of course, the world at night. There is also access to a lot of detailed data, as well as more maps and information at the Mapping Globalization wiki.
UCLA Economist Ed Leamer reviews Thomas Friedman's "The world is flat." (.pdf) When the Journal of Economic Literature asked me to write a review of The World is Flat... I shipped it overnight by UPS to India to have the work done. (via)
I was wrong. Free market trade policies hurt the poor. “As leader of the delegation from the United Kingdom [to Seattle in 1999], I was convinced that the expansion of world trade had the potential to bring major benefits to developing countries and would be one of the key means by which world poverty would be tackled... I now believe that this approach is wrong and misguided.”
The New Global Job Shift. The next round of globalization is sending upscale jobs offshore. They include basic research, chip design, engineering--even financial analysis.
Here's an interesting article about the economics of globalization.
Is Wage Insurance the Answer? Central to the ongoing debate on globalization is whether free trade is a good thing or not because it pits capital against labor. Like a lot of policy issues (and politics :) trade helps some but hurts others, while polarizing and often making enemies of people on either side of the debate. Wage insurance might provide a middle ground where people can come together. (more inside!)
One Year After Seattle -- "A year has passed since the World Trade Organization's "Millennium Round" collapsed under clouds of tear gas in Seattle," writes Mark Weisbrot, in this useful overview of what was -- and is -- at stake. "The debate over globalization has been altered, perhaps permanently, to include some of the concerns of civil society: poverty and inequality, economic instability, and the environmental costs of globalization...."
Here is an interesting account of S11 written by a journalist who went to protest on his day off. More inside...
"The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global corporations, creating a situation where the poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved and have used to meet their own needs for nutrition and health care." -- Vandana Shiva lectures on globalization and poverty.