Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 12th, 2015

 

How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality

Technologies didn’t reduce the working time of people and indeed increased the physical aches and pain and created and spread many kinds of mental troubles and anxiety.

Rising income inequality has set off fierce political and economic debates, but one important angle hasn’t been explored adequately. We need to ask whether market forces themselves might limit or reverse the trend.

(Market forces? They are behind mankind calamities for inequalities)

Technology has contributed to the rise in inequality, but there are also some significant ways in which technology could reduce it.

For example, while computers have improved our lives in many ways, they haven’t yet done much to make health care and education cheaper. Over the next few decades, however, that may well change: We can easily imagine medical diagnosis by online artificial intelligence, greater use of online competitive procurement for health care services, more transparency in pricing and thus more competition, and much cheaper online education for many students, to cite just a few possibilities.

In such a world, many wage gains would come from new and cheaper services, rather than from being able to cut a better deal with the boss at work.

It is a bit harder to see how information technology can lower housing costs, but perhaps the sharing economy can make it easier to live in much smaller spaces and rent needed items, rather than store them in a house or apartment. That would enable lower-income people to live closer to higher-paying urban jobs and at lower cost.

Another set of future gains, especially for lesser-skilled workers, may come as computers become easier to handle for people with rudimentary skill. Not everyone can work fruitfully with computers now.

There is a generation gap when it comes to manipulating electronic devices, and many relevant tasks require knowledge of programming or, more ambitiously, the entrepreneurial skill of creating a start-up. That, in a nutshell, is how our dynamic sector has concentrated its gains among a relatively small number of employees, thus leading to more income inequality.

This particular type of inequality may very well change. As the previous generation retires from the work force, many more people will have grown up with intimate knowledge of computers. And over time, it may become easier to work with computers just by talking to them. As computer-human interfaces become simpler and easier to manage, that may raise the relative return to less-skilled labor.

The future may also extend a growing category of employment, namely workers who team up with smart robots that require human assistance. Perhaps a smart robot will perform some of the current functions of a factory worker, while the human companion will do what the robot cannot, such as deal with a system breakdown or call a supervisor.

Such jobs would require versatility and flexible reasoning, a bit like some of the old manufacturing jobs, but not necessarily a lot of high-powered technical training, again because of the greater ease of the human-computer interface. That too could raise the returns to many relatively unskilled workers.

A more universal expertise with information technology also might reverse some of the income inequalities that stem from finance. For instance, the returns from high-frequency trading were higher a few years ago, in part because few firms used it; now many firms can trade at very high speeds.

It remains to be seen whether similar developments will lower hedge fund returns, but again it is possible to imagine a future in which many of the best investment and trading techniques are very widely copied and thus cease to be especially profitable.

A final set of forces to reverse growing inequality stem from the emerging economies, most of all China. Perhaps we are living in a temporary intermediate period when America and many other developed nations bear a lot of the costs of Chinese economic development without yet getting many of the potential benefits.

For instance, China and other emerging nations are already rich enough to bid up commodity prices and large enough to drive down the wages of a lot of American middle-class workers, especially in manufacturing. Yet while these emerging economies are keeping down the costs of manufactured goods for American consumers, they are not yet innovative enough to send us many fantastic new products, the way that the United States sends a stream of new products to British or French consumers, to their benefit.

That state of affairs will probably end. Over the next few decades, we can expect China, India and other emerging nations to supply more innovations to the global economy, including to the United States. This shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. It will lead to many good things.

Since the emerging economies are relatively poor, many of these innovations may benefit relatively low-income Americans.

India has already pioneered techniques for cheap, high-quality heart surgery and other medical procedures, and over time such techniques may achieve a foothold in the United States. Imagine a future China producing cheaper and safer cars, a cure for some kinds of cancer, and workable battery storage for solar energy. Ordinary Americans could be much better off, and without having to work for those gains.

To be clear, these are speculations and should not be taken as reasons to avoid improving our economy right now; furthermore, other trends may push in less positive directions. Still, these possibilities reframe the inequality problem.

In the popular model developed by the economist Thomas Piketty, inequality is fundamentally about capital versus labor. In his view, capital has opened up an ever-widening lead because of the relatively high rates of return on savings and investment. The natural response to reverse this trend, according to Mr. Piketty, would be a direct attack on the return to capital, such as through a global wealth tax.

In the scenarios outlined here, though, growing inequality is highly contingent on particular technologies and the global conditions of the moment. Movements toward greater inequality often set countervailing forces in motion, even if those forces take a long time to come to fruition.

From this perspective, rather than seeking to beat down capital, our attention should be directed to leaving open the future possibilities for innovation, change and dynamism. Even if income inequality continues to increase in the short run, as I believe is likely, there exists a plausible and more distant future in which we are mostly much better off and more equal.

The history of technology suggests that new opportunities for better living and higher wages are being created, just not as quickly as we might like.

 

 

 

 

Overcoming fear? Spread  of self-censorship? Aftermath of French weekly Charlie Hebdo attack

No one can overcome fear: We just submit to the belief that bad actions hit the neighbors.

Almost all victories were the result of submitting to fear. And that is why terror activities have been the preferred currency throughout history.

We have a blasphemy law. No electorate has approved it. No parliament has passed it. No judge supervises its application and no jury determines guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

There’s no right of appeal. And the penalty is death.

It is enforced not by a police bound by codes of conduct, but by a fear that dare not speak its name; a cowardice so total it lacks the courage to admit it is afraid.

We take on the powerful – and ask you to admire our bravery – only if they are not a paramilitary force that may kill us.

The British are the world’s worst cowards. It is one thing to say you don’t approve of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons.

But the BBC, Channel 4 and many newspapers won’t run any images of Mohammad whatsoever. They would at least have acknowledged censorship if they had announced that they were frightened of attacks on their staff. They would have clung to a remnant of their honour if they had said: “We are not censoring out of respect. We loathe the murderers who enforce their taboos with Kalashnikovs. But we do not want to spend years living in hiding, as Salman Rushdie did.

Or be stabbed in the street, as Theo van Gogh was. Or hear an Islamist smash at our door with an axe and cry: “We will get our revenge,” – as Kurt Westergaard did. So we are backing away.”

Admittedly, an honest admission that terror works would shred the pretence that journalists are fearless speakers of truth to power. (Before the invasion of the US of Afghanistan and then to Iraq, the western journalist were bold because they felt secure of terrorist attacks. The done has changed as resentment skyrocketed)

But it would be a small gesture of solidarity. It would say to everyone, from Pakistani secularists murdered for opposing theocratic savagery, to British parents worried sick that their boys will join Islamic State, that radical Islam is a real fascistic force.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen in the street.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen in the street. Photograph: Anne Gelbard/AFP/Getty Images

Instead, most journalists have lived a lie for years, as have many in the arts, academia and comedy. We take on the powerful – and ask you to admire our bravery – if, and only if, the powerful are not a paramilitary force that may kill us.

The mass murder of cartoonists and police officers at Charlie Hebdo, and the attacks on Jews, which revive so many foul memories of European fascism, will change our world – almost certainly for the worst. Unless we find the courage to overcome fear, the self-censorship will spread, and not only in the media.

Colleagues who wanted historians at a London museum to talk about the long history of depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art last week were met with panicking press officers trying to shut them up.

Historian Tom Holland, who received death threats after he challenged the creation myths of Islam, said: “I cannot think of any other area of history where debate is so nervous.” He hopes that historians will continue to say that the Koran was a manmade creation, but doubts that journalists will be keen to take their work to the public.

(All books are manmade, and all religious stories are myths, and that is regardless of what people says, and it is totally pointless to play the smart-ass disseminating the obvious)

This is not a small capitulation. In the 19th century, the textual criticism of German scholars revealed that the supposed word of God in the Bible was a mess of competing stories. It did as much damage to Christianity and Judaism as Darwinism.

Anyone hoping to repeat the exercise by taking apart the Koran and the hadiths today will be restrained by the fear that they will end up as dead as satirists who try to do the same with anti-clerical humour.

My friend and comrade Maajid Nawaz was a jihadi before he converted to liberalism and understands the totalitarian mind. He says that people still do not realise that radical Islamists do not just want to impose their taboos at gunpoint. They want to “create a civil war” so that European Muslims accept that they can only live in the caliphate; to encourage the rise of the white far-right so that ordinary coexistence becomes impossible. If they win one demand, as they are winning in Britain, then they will up the tension and move to another.

As soon as you look at demands rather than labels, the wall dividing extremists from the rest begins to crumble. Saudi Arabia is Britain’s trusted partner and ally. It receives vast quantities of armaments and in turn pumps propaganda into British mosques and universities.

As Paris looked like a war zone, it flogged the Saudi liberal Raif Badawi for insulting Islam. At least they did not kill him, you might say. But if the religious courts had found him guilty of apostasy – that is, of taking the adult decision to abandon the religion of his childhood – the sentence would have been death.

European liberals ought to have stopped, as the lash fell on Badawi’s shoulders, and wondered about their queasiness at criticising the religions of the “powerless”and “marginalised”. The Saudi Arabian monarchy is all too powerful, as are the other dictatorships of the Middle East. Power depends on where you stand and who stands below you.

The unemployed man with the gun is more powerful than the Parisian journalist. The marginal cleric may have a hard life, but if he sits in a sharia court imposing misogynist rules on British Muslim women he is to be feared.

European liberals might try to be true to their principles and ally with dissidents, liberals, leftists and free thinkers within Muslim communities. They might help ex-Muslims who fear that one day they will be murdered for apostasy. They might reflect that a Muslim man will encounter xenophobia from the right, but they will hear no rigorous criticism at university or other leftist institutions of the sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia and bloodlust of militant religion.

Self-interest ought to be a motivator. Fear of radical Islam is not only driving support for the National Front in France and Ukip here, but providing an excuse for more attacks on civil liberties, including, despite David Cameron’s pious words after Charlie Hebdo, attacks on freedom of speech.

I hope I am wrong, but I cannot see a culture shift on this necessary scale happening. I fear we must look forward to a lying and frightened future.

Note: Time to bypass religious ideology and mythical stories and let them die their slow death from lack of dissemination. Let us focus on the civil rights of people and extending opportunities for a better life.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

January 2015
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Blog Stats

  • 1,418,811 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 771 other followers

%d bloggers like this: