Monday, October 3, 2016

Dystopian Monday

I'm feeling kind of dystopian today.

Maybe it's just because it's Monday; maybe I need a vacation.

Or maybe the world really is coming to an end.

  • In Blue Apron's Chaotic Warehouses, Making Dinner Easy Is Hard Work
    The company has set out to upend the entrenched industrial food system and disrupt the dinner table by changing the way Americans buy, receive, and prepare food, reducing food waste and increasing distribution and delivery efficiencies in the process. To do that, it had to rapidly hire a massive unskilled workforce, bringing jobs to a part of the Bay Area that has been largely left behind by Silicon Valley’s boom times. Yet documents and interviews suggest that it was unprepared to properly manage and care for those workers, and as a result has suffered a rash of health and safety violations.

    In the 38 months since Blue Apron’s facility opened, the Richmond Police Department has received calls from there twice because of weapons, three times for bomb threats, and seven times because of assault. Police captains have met twice with Blue Apron to discuss the frequency of calls to the police. At least four arrests have been made due to violence on the premises, or threats of it. Employees have reported being punched in the face, choked, groped, pushed, pulled, and even bitten by each other on the job, according to police reports. Employees recalled bomb scares, brandished kitchen knives, and talk of guns.

  • Deep-Fried Data
    You can try to cover your qualms with layers of ethical review, like a coat of paint. But you can't hide the ugliness underneath.

    I worry about legitimizing a culture of universal surveillance. I am very uneasy to see social scientists working with Facebook, for example.

    People are pragmatic. In the absence of meaningful protection, their approach to privacy becomes “click OK and pray”. Every once in a while a spectacular hack shakes us up. But we have yet to see a coordinated, tragic abuse of personal information. That doesn't mean it won't happen. Remember that we live in a time when a spiritual successor to fascism is on the ascendant in a number of Western democracies. The stakes are high.

    Large, unregulated collections of behavioral data are a public hazard.

    People face social pressure to abandon their privacy. Being on LinkedIn has become an expected part of getting a job or an apartment. The border patrol wants to look at your social media.

    So in working with the online behemoths, realize that the behavioral data they collect is not consensual. There can be no consent to mass surveillance. These business models, and the social norm of collecting everything, are still fragile. By lending your prestige to them, you legitimize them and make them more likely to endure.

  • Augmenting journalism
    Silicon Valley’s enthusiasm for a universal basic income follows naturally from a techno-utopian ideology of abundance. As robots displace human workers, they’ll provide more and more of the goods and services that humans need, faster and cheaper and better than we could. We’ll just need to be paid to consume those goods and services.

    This narrative reveals a profound failure of imagination. Our greatest tech visionary, Doug Engelbart, wanted to augment human workers, not obsolete them. If an automated economy can free people from drudgework and — more importantly — sustain them, I’m all for it. But I believe that many people want to contribute if they can. Some want to teach. Some want to care for the elderly. Some want to build affordable housing. Some want to explore a field of science. Some want to grow food. Some want to write news stories about local or global issues.

    Before we pay people simply to consume, why wouldn’t we subsidize these jobs? People want to do them, too few are available and they pay too poorly, expanding these workforces would benefit everyone.

  • Shadow Regulation: the Back-Room Threat to Digital Rights
    Shadow Regulation may be a new term, but it's a phenomenon that has been gathering speed for several years. To defend our Internet, we need to pay attention to the encroachment of these secretive, exclusive agreements, and challenge them when they pose a threat to our digital rights and democracy.
  • Venture Capitalist Threatens To Quit If Taxes Are Raised
    It’s been nearly a decade since I began writing about the taxation of carried interest, which is the cut of profits that venture capitalists, private equity pros and other types of money managers receive from successfully investing other people’s money. And I’ve consistently argued that carried interest should be viewed by the IRS as ordinary income, rather than as a capital gain.
  • The Last Active Investor
    First conceived in the 1970’s, S&P 500 and other index-­‐based approaches slowly and surely began to gather assets. The addition of ETF’s in the 1990’s and smart beta passive vehicles in the 2000’s accelerated the growth. No investment skill (a.k.a. alpha) was required to launch a new fund or product and by 2015 30% of the stock and bond markets were held by passive investors. The pitch and reason for such explosive growth over 40 years: lower fees and better than average (sometimes top quintile) performance versus active fund managers. Portfolio success became a function of marketing and not investment skill. The money poured in.

1 comment:

  1. "Some want to teach. Some want to care for the elderly. Some want to build affordable housing. Some want to explore a field of science. Some want to grow food. Some want to write news stories about local or global issues.
    Before we pay people simply to consume, why wouldn’t we subsidize these jobs?"

    All of those things that people want to do can be done by independent people. Doing those things as jobs does indeed bring wages, but it also brings a boss, who would tell people how to do those things. The boss's suggestions must be followed in order to earn the wages, so there goes the independence. So I'm with the basic income guys. Let robots do the work, and free people up to act independently and find their own ways to be of use to society and the ailing planet.