mfioretti: corporations*

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  1. As Becky Hogge notes in her important report on the impact of open data, tracking impact is tricky. By its nature, open data is resistant to traditional impact reporting; in part because we don’t know exactly how it is being used, and in part because the value chain is so diffuse. So, Hogge argues, outside of sweeping statements about potential, at this stage impact is largely indicated by “fragments” of stories from the ground.

    Despite this methodological challenge, we think OpenCorporates has already made many tangible contributions to revealing how power runs through corporate networks. Therefore, in this part of our reading list we’ll keep track of fragments that illustrate the importance of open company data, including anti-corruption investigations, and internal and external impact reports.
    https://blog.opencorporates.com/2017/...ding-list-impact-of-open-company-data
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-08)
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  2. Already a fourth of the adults actually employed in the US are paid wages lower than would lift them above the official poverty line – and so a fifth of American children live in poverty. Almost half of employed adults in this country are eligible for food stamps (most of those who are eligible don’t apply). The market in labour has broken down, along with most others.

    Those jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession just aren’t coming back, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells you – the net gain in jobs since 2000 still stands at zero – and if they do return from the dead, they’ll be zombies, those contingent, part-time or minimum-wage jobs where the bosses shuffle your shift from week to week: welcome to Wal-Mart, where food stamps are a benefit.

    And don’t tell me that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour solves the problem. No one can doubt the moral significance of the movement. But at this rate of pay, you pass the official poverty line only after working 29 hours a week. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. Working a 40-hour week, you would have to make $10 an hour to reach the official poverty line. What, exactly, is the point of earning a paycheck that isn’t a living wage, except to prove that you have a work ethic?

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    But, wait, isn’t our present dilemma just a passing phase of the business cycle? What about the job market of the future? Haven’t the doomsayers, those damn Malthusians, always been proved wrong by rising productivity, new fields of enterprise, new economic opportunities? Well, yeah – until now, these times. The measurable trends of the past half-century, and the plausible projections for the next half-century, are just too empirically grounded to dismiss as dismal science or ideological hokum. They look like the data on climate change – you can deny them if you like, but you’ll sound like a moron when you do.

    For example, the Oxford economists who study employment trends tell us that almost half of existing jobs, including those involving ‘non-routine cognitive tasks’ – you know, like thinking – are at risk of death by computerisation within 20 years.

    So this Great Recession of ours – don’t kid yourself, it ain’t over – is a moral crisis as well as an economic catastrophe. You might even say it’s a spiritual impasse, because it makes us ask what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character – or whether character itself is something we must aspire to. But that is why it’s also an intellectual opportunity: it forces us to imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.

    What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?

    In short, it lets us say: enough already. Fuck work.

    Certainly this crisis makes us ask: what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?

    And what would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living – if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day?

    I’m not proposing a fancy thought experiment here. By now these are practical questions because there aren’t enough jobs. So it’s time we asked even more practical questions. How do you make a living without a job – can you receive income without working for it? Is it possible, to begin with and then, the hard part, is it ethical? If you were raised to believe that work is the index of your value to society – as most of us were – would it feel like cheating to get something for nothing?

    We already have some provisional answers because we’re all on the dole, more or less. The fastest growing component of household income since 1959 has been ‘transfer payments’ from government. By the turn of the 21st century, 20 per cent of all household income came from this source – from what is otherwise known as welfare or ‘entitlements’.

    you will say – along with every economist from Dean Baker to Greg Mankiw, Left to Right – that raising taxes on corporate income is a disincentive to investment and thus job creation. Or that it will drive corporations overseas, where taxes are lower.

    But in fact raising taxes on corporate income can’t have these effects.

    Let’s work backward. Corporations have been ‘multinational’ for quite some time. In the 1970s and ’80s, before Ronald Reagan’s signature tax cuts took effect, approximately 60 per cent of manufactured imported goods were produced offshore, overseas, by US companies. That percentage has risen since then, but not by much.

    Chinese workers aren’t the problem – the homeless, aimless idiocy of corporate accounting is. That is why the Citizens United decision of 2010 applying freedom of speech regulations to campaign spending is hilarious. Money isn’t speech, any more than noise is. The Supreme Court has conjured a living being, a new person, from the remains of the common law, creating a real world more frightening than its cinematic equivalent: say, Frankenstein, Blade Runner or, more recently, Transformers.

    But the bottom line is this. Most jobs aren’t created by private, corporate investment, so raising taxes on corporate income won’t affect employment.

    When we place our faith in hard work, we’re wishing for the creation of character; but we’re also hoping, or expecting, that the labour market will allocate incomes fairly and rationally. And there’s the rub, they do go together. Character can be created on the job only when we can see that there’s an intelligible, justifiable relation between past effort, learned skills and present reward.

    Securing ‘full employment’ has become a bipartisan goal at the very moment it has become both impossible and unnecessary. Sort of like securing slavery in the 1850s or segregation in the 1950s.

    Why?

    Because work means everything to us inhabitants of modern market societies – regardless of whether it still produces solid character and allocates incomes rationally, and quite apart from the need to make a living. It’s been the medium of most of our thinking about the good life since Plato correlated craftsmanship and the possibility of ideas as such. It’s been our way of defying death, by making and repairing the durable things, the significant things we know will last beyond our allotted time on earth because they teach us, as we make or repair them, that the world beyond us – the world before and after us – has its own reality principles.

    Think about the scope of this idea. Work has been a way of demonstrating differences between males and females, for example by merging the meanings of fatherhood and ‘breadwinner’, and then, more recently, prying them apart. Since the 17th century, masculinity and femininity have been defined – not necessarily achieved – by their places in a moral economy, as working men who got paid wages for their production of value on the job, or as working women who got paid nothing for their production and maintenance of families. Of course, these definitions are now changing, as the meaning of ‘family’ changes, along with profound and parallel changes in the labour market – the entry of women is just one of those – and in attitudes toward sexuality.

    When work disappears, the genders produced by the labour market are blurred. When socially necessary labour declines, what we once called women’s work – education, healthcare, service – becomes our basic industry, not a ‘tertiary’ dimension of the measurable economy. The labour of love, caring for one another and learning how to be our brother’s keeper – socially beneficial labour – becomes not merely possible but eminently necessary, and not just within families, where affection is routinely available. No, I mean out there, in the wide, wide world.
    https://aeon.co/essays/what-if-jobs-are-not-the-solution-but-the-problem
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  3. A common myth, promoted by the rich, is that wealth is produced individually before it is collectivized by the state, through taxation. In fact, wealth was always produced collectively and privatized by those with the power to do it: the propertied class. Farmland and seeds, pre-modern forms of capital, were collectively developed through generations of peasant endeavor that landlords appropriated by stealth. Today, every smartphone comprises components developed by some government grant, or through the commons of pooled ideas, for which no dividends have ever been paid to society.

    So how should society be compensated? Taxation is the wrong answer. Corporations pay taxes in exchange for services the state provides them, not for capital injections that must yield dividends. There is thus a strong case that the commons have a right to a share of the capital stock, and associated dividends, reflecting society’s investment in corporations’ capital. And, because it is impossible to calculate the size of state and social capital crystalized in any firm, we can decide how much of its capital stock the public should own only by means of a political mechanism.

    A simple policy would be to enact legislation requiring that a percentage of capital stock (shares) from every initial public offering (IPO) be channeled into a Commons Capital Depository, with the associated dividends funding a universal basic dividend (UBD). This UBD should, and can be, entirely independent of welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and so forth, thus ameliorating the concern that it would replace the welfare state, which embodies the concept of reciprocity between waged workers and the unemployed.
    https://www.project-syndicate.org/com...al-income-by-yanis-varoufakis-2016-10
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  4. Britain is divided as never before. The country has turned its back on Europe, and its female ruler has her sights set on trade with the East. As much as this sounds like Britain today, it also describes the country in the 16th century, during the golden age of its most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

    One of the more surprising aspects of Elizabethan England is that its foreign and economic policy was driven by a close alliance with the Islamic world, a fact conveniently ignored today by those pushing the populist rhetoric of national sovereignty.

    From the moment of her accession to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth began seeking diplomatic, commercial and military ties with Muslim rulers in Iran, Turkey and Morocco — and with good reasons. In 1570, when it became clear that Protestant England would not return to the Catholic faith, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth and called for her to be stripped of her crown. Soon, the might of Catholic Spain was against her, an invasion imminent. English merchants were prohibited from trading with the rich markets of the Spanish Netherlands. Economic and political isolation threatened to destroy the newly Protestant country.

    Elizabeth responded by reaching out to the Islamic world. Spain’s only rival was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad III, which stretched from North Africa through Eastern Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans had been fighting the Hapsburgs for decades, conquering parts of Hungary. Elizabeth hoped that an alliance with the sultan would provide much needed relief from Spanish military aggression

    Elizabeth’s Islamic policy held off a Catholic invasion, transformed English taste and established a new model for joint stock investment that would eventually finance the Virginia Company, which founded the first permanent North American colony.

    It turns out that Islam, in all its manifestations — imperial, military and commercial — played an important part in the story of England. Today, when anti-Muslim rhetoric inflames political discourse, it is useful to remember that our pasts are more entangled than is often appreciated.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/opi...ds-forgotten-muslim-history.html?_r=0
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  5. The individual increasingly has at her disposal the means of taking on large, powerful bureaucratic institutions as an equal.

    Networked consumer, environmental and labor activism, with its ability to subject corporate malefactors to boycotts or tort actions, and to expose them to humiliating scrutiny, offers the potential to control and punish bad corporate behavior at least as well as did the regulatory state or the traditional press, and — insofar as they are not prone to the same sorts of cross-institutional collusion — to do an even better job of it.

    This includes “culture jamming” of the sort employed by the McLibel defendants and by Frank Kernaghan against Kathie Lee Gifford. It includes labor-led boycotts and information campaigns based on “open mouth sabotage” like those of the Imolakee Workers and the Wal-Mart Workers Association, and a whole host of online “employernamesucks.com” websites. It includes targeted campaigns to embarrass such corporate malefactors in the eyes of their suppliers, outlets, major stakeholders, and labor and consumer interest organizations. It includes networked activism through umbrella movements of labor, consumer and social justice organizations linked together for ad hoc single issue campaigns against a particular corporate criminal. It includes efforts like Wikileaks to promote whistleblowing and provide secure platforms for circulating embarrassing information about corporate misbehavior. It incorporates a large element of what John Keane calls “monitory democracy.”

    Networked organization offers, as well, to supplant the regulatory state’s old licensing, authentication and quality certification functions. If Consumer Reports was pithecanthropus in this evolutionary schema, and Angie’s List ishomo erectus, then the future lies with full-blown networked civil societies, organized on a voluntary basis, providing a context within which secure commercial relationships and other forms of cooperation can take place. The future of this model has been described variously as neo-Venetianism or phyles (fictionally in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and non-fictionally in de Ugarte’s work), the Darknet in Suarez’s Freedom, and “economies as a social software service” by John Robb.

    In short, networked activism offers to do to the state and the large corporation what the file-sharing movement has only begun to do to the record industry, and what Wikileaks has barely even begun to do to the U.S. national security community.
    http://kevinacarson.org/drt
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  6. Reagan had a horribly cynical view of government. He championed a pull yourself up by your bootstraps assault on programs for middle and poor America while his Imelda Marcos-esque programs offered unlimited free shoes, if you will, to the rich and corporate America in the form of regulatory cuts and bare bones tax policy and loopholes for them. He also embraced the divisive and polarizing social policies of groups like the not-so-Moral Majority. All of this effectively killed and ended America’s previous progressive successes while it reversed course rather dramatically. But in doing so, it was Reagan himself who nurtured the seeds for American Progressivism 2.0 which is just now beginning to bear fruit.

    This is the sum of Ronald Reagan’s imprint on our government which fertilized the seeds of the progressive movement we are witnessing today:

    —Reagan gave Americans an unhealthy and even deadly cynicism toward government. He was the first president in modern times to campaign on a theme that taught Americans to virtually hate their government and give up on it because, even though it had played the most pivotal role in making America the envy of the world, he, without justification, said it did not work and was not the solution to our problems - it was the problem. (Remember Reagan’s 1988 campaign mantra, “government is not the solution to the problem, it is the problem”). It should not be lost on Americans today that just twenty short years before Reagan, when America was the envy of the world in all things economic, educational, humanitarian, technological and just about every other category of strength, John F. Kennedy was elected President largely on a mantra which said government does work and is a good force

    Reagan also gave Americans a confused embracement of the bizarre notion of trickle-down economics which abandoned 50 years of successful governmental investment in people and indeed had created the largest middle class the world had ever seen and further established the 20th Century as clearly, “the American century.” Instead, Reagan initiated the largest welfare and income redistribution program in the history of our nation - albeit welfare and income redistribution handed to the richest Americans and to the richest corporations through giveaway tax loopholes and streamlined “rent seeker” policies for the wealthy which literally handed them hundreds of billions of tax dollars with no strings attached, and included regulation manipulation and abandonment. The belief was that with this relief, corporations would have new revenue streams to invest in America. They didn’t. Instead they took their government giveaways along with American jobs and sheltered them overseas or across the US border with Mexico. This turned out to be a double dose of economic destruction for our government and for our workers.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-j...-unwitting-father-of-t_b_9657198.html
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  7. De Zayas is especially concerned about Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses, which allow corporations to sue governments over laws or regulations that might diminish expected profits. Such mechanisms, he says, “actually constitute an attack on the very essence of sovereignty and self-determination, which are founding principles of the United Nations.” In fact, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires these kinds of disputes to be decided by independent, transparent and accountable tribunals. “Allowing three private arbitrators to disregard international and national law … is tantamount to a revolution against law.”

    De Zayas notes that of the 608 known arbitration awards, many “have overridden national law and hindered States in the sovereign determination of fiscal and budgetary policy, labour, health and environmental regulation, and have had adverse human rights impacts… including a ‘chilling effect’ with regard to the exercise of democratic governance.”

    • Abolish ISDS, and refuse to comply with any existing ISDS awards that violate human rights;

    • Ensure that all trade and investment agreements recognize the primacy of human rights and specify that, in case of conflict, human rights obligations prevail;

    • Ensure that trade and investment treaties do not interfere with the ability of governments to conduct domestic budgetary and fiscal affairs.

    • Resist the ‘siren call’ of lobbyists for transnational corporations and banks that make overly-optimistic projections of growth and development.

    De Zayas is not advocating an end to international trade and investment, but an end to the “grand global casino where investors rig the system to guarantee that they always win…. The rule of thumb,” he says, “should be to: (a) give to corporations what belongs to them – an environment in which to compete fairly; (b) give back to States what is fundamentally and inalienably theirs – sovereignty and policy space; (c) give parliaments what belongs to them – the faculty to consider all aspects of treaties without undemocratic secrecy and fast-tracking; and (d) give to the people what is theirs: the rights to public participation, due process and democracy.”
    http://www.localfutures.org/current-t...-revolution-against-international-law
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  8. app-based businesses like Uber, Lyft and Instacart have grown rapidly, in part because they signed up tens of thousands of people to work on their services as independent contractors. Uber, the most successful business in this sector, has signed up more than 160,000 of what it calls “driver-partners.” There is no question that the companies in what some people call the “gig economy” would not have been able to grow so fast if they had hired all of these people as employees.

    Some of those workers are now accusing these companies of skirting federal and state labor laws.

    Each case involving these companies and workers is different. In some instances, workers should clearly be classified as employees, and in others they clearly should not. The key question that courts will have to answer is “whether a worker is economically dependent on the employer or in business for him or herself,” the Department of Labor said in regulatory guidance it issued to employers on Wednesday.

    Courts typically use a six-part test to figure out if workers are being misclassified. For example, courts will look at whether the work being performed is an integral part of the employer’s business, how much control the employer exerts over workers and whether the relationship between the two parties is permanent or open-ended?

    Courts could decide that some should be treated as employees while others performing similar tasks for the same company can be considered contractors if they are sufficiently independent. Technology is making it possible for companies to do business in ways that can be good for consumers and workers. But this emerging field still needs to be governed by sensible regulations devised to protect workers.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/opi...employee-in-the-gig-economy.html?_r=0
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  9. No single person or group of people can claim credit for today’s historic US Supreme Court ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The decision is the hard-earned payoff for decades of work by millions of activists, politicians, public figures, and average Americans who have fought relentlessly for this right.

    But in recent years, the giants of Silicon Valley have played an important role in amplifying the call. Leaders of the world’s biggest tech companies coupled moral conviction in support of marriage equality with bottom-line financial arguments—arguments that only the country’s most powerful business leaders were in a position to make.

    Back in 2013, 278 companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, often referred to as DOMA.

    In the filing, they argued that DOMA burdens businesses with keeping track of an inconsistent patchwork of federal and state legal definitions of marriage for the purpose of benefits, taxes, and other administrative issues.

    “Confusion abounds, and even sophisticated employers struggle,” the brief read.

    Along with the HR nightmare, the companies also argued that DOMA was detrimental to morale and, in many cases, forces businesses to forsake their own beliefs. “In the modern workplace, the employer becomes the face of DOMA’s discriminatory treatment, and is placed in the role of intrusive inquisitor, imputer of taxable income, and withholder of benefits,” it reads.

    Yes, the decision will make things like recruiting, morale building, and bookkeeping simpler. It is also expected to increase the federal budget’s bottom line by $10 billion over ten years, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office
    http://www.wired.com/2015/06/silicon-...-equality-scotus/?mbid=social_twitter
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  10. for too long America’s social dysfunction has continued to intensify as the nation has ignored a key underlying pathology: anti-intellectualism.

    America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us.

    it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

    What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational. What else could explain the hyper-patriotism (link is external) that has many accepting an outlandish notion that America is far superior to the rest of the world? Love of one’s country is fine, but many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world.

    But it doesn’t. International quality of life rankings (link is external) place America far from the top, at sixteenth.

    Corporate influence on climate and environmental policy, meanwhile, is simply more evidence of anti-intellectualism in action, for corporate domination of American society is another result of a public that is not thinking critically. Americans have allowed their democracy to slip away, their culture overtaken by enormous corporations that effectively control both the governmental apparatus and the media, thus shaping life around materialism and consumption.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/...ti-intellectualism-is-killing-america
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