Peripheral Belters or Retooling Finance and Tech for Everyone's Benefit
May 27, 2019 3:45 AM Subscribe
Going to Space to Benefit Earth - "Bezos then went on to discuss his plan to ship humans off of the best planet in the solar system and send them to live in floating cylinders in space."
Earth is our home. It’s what we’re made for. The earth went through a lot to give you life. Sparks had to catch, oceans had to freeze, billions of cells had to survive endless disease, all of these amazing things had to happen just right to give you life. You belong here. You are as much a creation of the earth as the air you breathe. You may feel like a singular organism but you’re actually as much a singular organism as one of the many billions of organisms that make up your body. You and earth are one. And because you evolved on earth, you are perfectly adapted to earth and it is perfectly adapted to you. It yearns for your breath as you yearn for its breeze on your face.Capitalism in crisis: U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich - "'It's a choice to pay people as little as you can or work them as hard as you can', he told the audience gathered in the 1,000-seat auditorium. 'It's a choice to maintain pleasant working conditions ... or harsh ones; to offer good benefits or paltry ones'. If business leaders didn't 'ask hard questions about capitalism', he warned that they would be asked by 'ideologues seeking to point fingers, assign blame and make reckless changes to the system.'"
We absolutely have the ability to transcend our unhealthy tendencies as a species which, when you really look at them, are merely creations of a mind that feels alone and separate and like it is in a constant fight for its life. If we just put down our mental swords for a hot second and learned to channel our creativity into the thriving of our society and our ecosystem instead of into killing and out-competing one another then we will be okay. The way out of this is the way towards health. For example, once women have been given back even the most basic rights of sexual sovereignty such as birth control and access to terminations as they have in most western countries, birth rates fall below replication levels. Women’s own internal bodily wisdom makes the problem of overpopulation moot if given half a chance just to make decisions on behalf of her own body.
Another example. People lament the lack of jobs due to AI and automation but we actually desperately need people to do less. We need a whole lot of people doing nothing, not using the roads every morning and evening, not producing widgets that no one needs and creating advertising campaigns to brainwash people into buying them anyway, just to have them end up in the ocean or leaching heavy metals into the earth. Having a whole lot of people doing nothing for more of their week would take the strain off of our health systems as the single biggest factor in disease is stress. Studies show that stress also shrinks your brain and lessens your creativity and innovation too, so all the punitive-minded libertarians out there who are worried that we won’t progress as a species if we start sharing resources around to people who aren’t doing things that traditionally made money because we’ll be too relaxed can chill too. We don’t need to crack the whip to get people to make beautiful innovations. Humans are at their best when feeling playful and relaxed. Nearly all the technological advances of the past came from people who had a lot of leisure time due to their privileged status. Releasing humans from 9 to 5 slavery would be the fastest way to slow our resource consumption and take pressure off of all our systems and would have the added benefit of making us smarter, funnier, more creative and more innovative too.
And for that matter, having every idea and innovation be required to make money is also killing us. We need the ability to fund things that will not make profit. How many times have you been in a conversation and someone’s come up with an idea that will solve a major environmental, energy or health problem and no one’s got excited because it will never get off the ground because it will never make money? Fully disappearing a problem never made anyone any money. Healthy people, for example, never spend a dime at the doctors. The way out of this is detaching human innovation from money and allowing solutions to flourish without the imposition of also having to turn a profit.
These are merely three things I can think of that will dramatically improve our collective ability to reverse this extinction event and all we have to do is get saner, stop punishing each other, start sharing and start collaborating. The only issue we have as humans is that a handful of highly competitive, highly sociopathic and yet incredibly mediocre people have all the power to build our future for us with virtually no input from anyone else. Because all the power in the form of all the money has been allowed to pool into the hands of those most willing to do whatever it takes to get it, we have just a few ruthless yet surprisingly dumb individuals calling the shots on the future of all living beings. The competitive mindset that gave rise to Jeff Bezos is the exact opposite of the kind of collaborative, harmonious mindset we’ll need if we’re going to overcome the challenges we face on the horizon.
- The age of the elected despot is here - "People want to believe a powerful and charismatic leader is on their side in an unjust world."
- The politics of hope against the politics of fear - "Ten ways to build an alternative to the siren song of the strongman."
Somewhere America lost its way. Behind the scenes lobby groups control regulation and twist it for their own purposes; trade deals are stacked against workers; the media cannot be trusted; democracy risks becoming nothing more than a sham contest between oligarchs...The Wealth Detective Who Finds the Hidden Money of the Super Rich - "Thirty-two-year-old French economist Gabriel Zucman scours spreadsheets to find secret offshore accounts... Zucman met his future wife, Claire Montialoux, in 2006, in a university economics class. She's now finishing her Ph.D. dissertation, which shows how the U.S.'s expansion of the minimum wage in the late 1960s and '70s helped black workers, narrowing the racial earnings gap. 'We share the same vision for why we are doing social sciences', Zucman says. 'The ultimate goal is how can we do better?'"
The system really is rigged and companies have profited over the past 30 years not from innovation and progress but from exploitation and monopoly power. “The disparity between what was promised and what happened was glaring,” he writes of the period...
The first half of the book examines four trends the author believes set the US on a path to a dismal economy: monopoly power, mishandled globalisation, poor financial regulation and new technologies that enable further exploitation and psychological manipulation — all familiar themes on the Democratic party’s campaign trail.
The second part sets out what to do next. Alongside the standard centre-left prescriptions of more government spending, a stronger welfare state and beefed up regulation, are a few of the more radical ideas bounced around by Democratic outriders: employment guarantee or universal basic income.
- An Economist Who Believes Only Government Can Save Capitalism - "There is no discussion whatsoever of polling data or other metrics to gauge public support for his ideas."
- The quest for radical equality in the American grain - "At the heart of property-owning democracy is the conviction that the best protection against oligarchy lies in a widespread dispersal of the ownership of the means of production."
So if the wholesalers don’t like the Amazon model, why don’t they simply get together and create their own platform? ... Even if they could, it may be too late... What’s more, traditional companies would have to embrace the competition and collaboration mix inherent in the e-marketplace as practised by Amazon. Coming together to share technology and data would be a major culture shift as has been the case in other industries.China, Leverage, and Values - "We can now expect China to redouble efforts to roll out a homegrown smartphone operating system, design its own chips, develop its own semiconductor technology (including design tools and manufacturing equipment), and implement its own technology standards. This can only accelerate the process of creating a digital iron curtain that separates the world into two distinct, mutually exclusive technological spheres."
Mr Van Dongen says his members don’t mind competition, and are all for more government efficiency via ecommerce. But they believe this is a fight, as he puts it, about “how the game is played”. Amazon, say rivals, has used its outsize Washington influence — it lobbies on more issues than any other company — to stack the deck. Amazon hired Barack Obama’s chief procurement officer, Anne Rung, who has since had email exchanges with an official in the Trump administration about how the GSA process should roll out...
Still, purchasers preferred the ease of using Amazon. But that may be part of the problem. The idea that buying stuff for the government should be as easy as buying it for yourself — no matter what the costs in transparency — is Amazon’s framing. But the public sector is not a household. If businesses and citizens feel that the purchasing process has become captured, it will be a net loss to the government — and society as a whole.
On the other hand, for all of the praise that is heaped on Chinese service companies like Tencent for their innovation, the fact that everything on Tencent is monitored and censored is chilling, particularly when people disappear. The possibilities of a central government creating the conditions for, say, self-driving cars or some other top-down application of technology is appealing, but turning a city into a prison through surveillance is terrifying. And while it is tempting to fantasize about removing “fake news” and hateful content with an iron fist, it is a step down the road to removing everything that is objectionable to an unaccountable authority with little more than an adjustment to a configuration file.The problem with Ben Thompson's 'aggregation theory' - "All those apps are doing is providing an algorithm that lowers search costs and makes booking easy. Expedia didn't design, build and maintain the airplane that flew him to Sydney; build or operate the airport; train pilots; or find, produce, refine and transport the necessary jet fuel to power the plane over its continental voyage. Uber didn't design and manufacture the car used to transport him to his hotel; find, produce, and process the raw materials that go into it (such as steel and aluminium); or actually drive him from the airport to his hotel. AirBnB didn't design, build, maintain, or clean the house he stayed in, nor supply it with electricity. UberEats and OpenTable didn't grow and process any raw foodstuffs, or use them to cook a meal, and TripAdvisor didn't design, manufacture or operate any of the tourist attractions he visited. In fact, all these companies did was write some pretty simple code that made matching buyers with sellers easier and more efficient, and the real question that should be being asked is whether these platform companies are extracting too much value from the supply chain relative to their value-add, and whether that is likely to be a sustainable situation in the long term, or will invite potential disruption and/or an eventual supply-side/regulatory response."
This is the true war when it comes to technology: censorship versus openness, control versus creativity, and centralization versus competition. These are, of course, connected: China’s censorship is about control facilitated by centralization. That, though, should not only give Western tech companies and investors pause about China generally, but should also lead to serious introspection about the appropriate policies towards our own tech industry. Openness, creativity, and competition are just as related as their counterparts, and infringement on any one of them should be taken as a threat to all three.
- Technology That Could End Humanity—and How to Stop It - "Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom says technology often has unintended consequences, and that we may have to choose between totalitarianism and annihilation."
- Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry - "Technology is just another human creation—like religion or government or sports or money. It's not perfect, and it never will be. But it's still a miracle."
- How we need to remake the internet - "I don't believe our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it's financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them."
- A Modest Proposal: Tax Worthlessness - "How some economists are looking for ways to reduce the 'material incentives' of pursuing lucrative but destructive professions."
Before I talk about totalitarian states, I’d like to talk about trees... James Scott talks about this sort of thing as “legibility”. The unmanaged forest is illegible – we literally cannot read it, because it has far more complexity than we can possibly hope to handle – while, in contrast, the managed forest is legible – we’ve reshaped its world to be expressible in a small number of variables – basically just the land area, and the number of regions we’ve divided it into...The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose - "I don't ask you to believe in god or not believe in god -- that's somebody else's department -- but I do ask you to believe that you have a piece of you that has no shape, size, color or weight, but it gives you infinite value and dignity. And that rich and successful people don't have more of this than poor and less successful people. That slavery is wrong because it's an assault on another person's soul. That rape is not just an attack on a bunch of physical molecules, it's an attack on another person's soul. And what the soul does is, first it gives you moral responsibility. A tiger's not morally responsible for what it eats, but you are morally responsible for what you do. And the second thing it does is, it makes you long to have a meaningful life... You have to have a bigger mind and a deeper heart and a bigger consciousness. So somehow you have to get better as a person."
In a technical sense, legibility lets us turn our control over reality into optimisation problems. We have some small number of variables, and an outcome we want to optimise for, so we simply reshape the world by finding the values of those variables that maximize that outcome – our profits. And this works great – we have our new simple refined world, and we maximize our profit. Everyone is happy... At least, for about eighty years, at which point all of the trees start dying. This really happened...
This isn’t actually a talk about trees, but it is a talk about complexity, and about simplification. And it’s a talk about what happens when we apply this kind of simplification process to people. Because it turns out that people are even more complicated than trees, and we have a long history of trying to fix that, to take complex, messy systems of people and produce nice, simple, well behaved social orders that follow straightforward rules...
Tech may not look much like a state, even ignoring its strongly libertarian bent, but it has many of the same properties and problems, and every tech company is engaged in much the same goal as these states were: Making the world legible in order to increase profit...
We’re just giving people things that they want, not forcing them to obey us... This is what’s called Soft Power. Conventional ideas of power are derived from coercion – you make someone do what you want – while soft power is power that you derive instead from appeal – People want to do what you want. There are a variety of routes to soft power, but there’s one that has been particularly effective for colonising forces, the early state, and software companies. It goes like this.
First you make them want what you have, then you make them need it...
And we’re going to keep doing this, because this is the logic of the market. If people don’t want and need our product, they’re not going to use it, we’re not going to make money, and your company will fail and be replaced by one with no such qualms. The choice is not whether or not to exert soft power, it’s how and to what end.
I’m making this all sound very bleak, as if the things I’m talking about were uniformly bad. They’re not. Soft power is just influence, and it’s what happens every day as we interact with people. It’s an inevitable part of human life. Legibility is just an intrinsic part of how we come to understand and manipulate the world, and is at the core of most of the technological advancements of the last couple of centuries. Legibility is why we have only a small number of standardised weights and measures instead of a different notion of a pound or a foot for every village.
Without some sort of legible view of the world, nothing resembling modern civilization would be possible and, while modern civilization is not without its faults, on balance I’m much happier for it existing than not.
But civilizations fall as well as rise, and things that seemed like they were a great idea in the short term often end in forest death and famine. Sometimes it turns out that what we were disrupting was our life support system.
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