mfioretti: globalization*

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  1. interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

    But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

    This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

    Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

    To be sure, empathy is not enough. But another Enlightenment principle is that people can appreciate principles of universal rights that can bridge even the gaps that empathy cannot span. Any hopes for human improvement are better served by encouraging a recognition of universal human interests than by pitting group against group in zero-sum competition.

    How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

    SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research.!
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  2. There will be no economic or political justice for the poor, people of color, women or workers within the framework of global, corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism, which uses identity politics, multiculturalism and racial justice to masquerade as politics, will never halt the rising social inequality, unchecked militarism, evisceration of civil liberties and omnipotence of the organs of security and surveillance. Corporate capitalism cannot be reformed, despite its continually rebranding itself. The longer the self-identified left and liberal class seek to work within a system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” the more the noose will be tightened around our necks. If we do not rise up to bring government and financial systems under public control—which includes nationalizing banks, the fossil fuel industry and the arms industry—we will continue to be victims.

    Corporate capitalism is supranational. It owes no loyalty to any nation-state. It uses the projection of military power by the United States to protect and advance its economic interests but at the same time cannibalizes the U.S., dismantling its democratic institutions, allowing its infrastructure to decay and deindustrializing its factory centers to ship manufacturing abroad to regions where workers are treated as serfs.

    Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.

    the left lost its universalizing character. It no longer dealt with the intersection of all these issues within the context of a militarized, capitalist, hegemonic American empire. It treated politics as siloed group identity problems. Women had glass ceilings. Same with blacks. Same with gays.”

    The loss of this intersectionality was deadly. Instead of focusing on the plight of all of the oppressed, oppressed groups began to seek representation for their own members within capitalist structures.

    “When you bring politics down to simply about helping your group get a piece of the pie, you lose that systemic analysis,” he said. “You’re fragmented. You don’t have natural connections or solidarity with other groups. You don’t see the larger systemic context. By saying I want, as a gay person, to fight in the military, in a funny way you’re legitimating the American empire. If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?”

    “I don’t want to say we should eliminate all identity politics,” he said. “But any identity politics has to be done within the framework of understanding the larger political economy. That’s been stripped away and erased. Even on the left, you cannot find a deep conversation about capitalism and militarized capitalism. It’s just been erased. That’s why Trump came in.
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  3. There’s an understandable impulse in the face of growing national divisions and what for many was the shocking and unpleasant outcome of the 2016 national elections to retreat to a comforting cocoon of the like-minded. Blue cities will do all the things that a solidly Republican national government won’t do: respect LGBTQ rights, provide sanctuary for immigrants, denounce climate change, and tax themselves to pay for needed investments and public services. But withdrawing to the safety of agreeable blue localities cedes the important national battle at just the time when it needs to be contested.

    It is well and good to celebrate the successes that mayors and local leaders are having. But transforming these heartening but small successes into a sweeping call for a new localism is misplaced when the fundamental functions of the national government are being steadily undermined. None of this works in a world in which the federal government is not simply rending holes in the safety net but knocking down its foundations.

    While the rest of the world’s nation-states adopted the trappings of modern social democracies, the U.S. was late to implement things like unemployment insurance, social security and universal health care. The New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare were only enacted after various local and state programs to address these problems were simply overwhelmed.

    Cities are not merely ill-equipped to tackle our major challenges on their own. Localism has an undeniable history of making many problems worse. Take two big issues of our time: climate change and surging inequality. Mayors and cities can strike a pose and demonstrate effective tactics, but they lack the policy throw-weight to solve these problems.

    It’s also worth noting that a key aspect of localism that has been effectively exempt from federal control—local control of zoning and land use—has worsened the economic segregation of our nation’s metropolitan areas
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  4. “I’ve also met a mayor who is determined to revitalize his small town and bring in new businesses.”

    This can’t work. There are thousands of small towns that are losing population. If they are all competing to attract new businesses, be prepared for massive abuses by Business. None of them will pay taxes.

    The guy moving back after MIT and Microsoft sounds nice but certainly isn’t scalable. The more education people get, the less likely they are to move to a rural area. This is one of the reasons why there is a doctor shortage in rural America even though doctors make more is absolute dollars, not to mention after cost of living in rural areas. They have to work non-stop in rural places, send their kids to mediocre schools, have nothing to do socially and be isolated from others with their education level. You can’t get many immigrant doctors out there either because they risk getting treated like crap.
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  5. "we have run out of world to commodify. And now commodification can only cannibalize its own means of existence, both natural and social." - @mckenziewark
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-28)
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  6. 3D printing is a rising threat for world trade. According to a new ING report, world trade will be 23% lower in 2060 if the growth of investments in 3D printers continues at the current pace. If investments accelerate domestically printed goods could already wipe out 40% of world imports in 2040.
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  7. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
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  8. The point is not that making a world to accommodate oneself is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does, over folks who don’t naturally share its worldview, then there is a risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible—do the math, and there’s the future.

    We’ve gotten used to service personnel and staff who have no interest or participation in the businesses where they work. They have no incentive to make the products or the services better. This is a long legacy of the assembly line, standardising, franchising and other practices that increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s a small step then from a worker that doesn’t care to a robot. To consumers, it doesn’t seem like a big loss.

    Those who oversee the AI and robots will, not coincidentally, make a lot of money as this trend towards less human interaction continues and accelerates—as many of the products produced above are hugely and addictively convenient. Google, Facebook and other companies are powerful and yes, innovative, but the innovation curiously seems to have had an invisible trajectory. Our imaginations are constrained by who and what we are. We are biased in our drives, which in some ways is good, but maybe some diversity in what influences the world might be reasonable and may be beneficial to all.

    To repeat what I wrote above—humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. I’d argue that though those might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that our responses, often prodded by an emotion, will more likely than not offer the best way to deal with a situation.

    Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damasio concluded that though we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

    With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.

    We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by a possibility to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions, or not yet anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

    Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.
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  9. The robots hypothesis says that as technology gets cheaper, employers are substituting machines for workers. A 2013 paper by Lukas Karabarbounis and Brent Neiman found that costs of capital goods have been getting cheaper, and concluded that companies are substituting technology for human labor. This fits with other research showing adverse effects on wages from the adoption of new technologies like industrial robots.

    But there are problems with this thesis as well. A recent study by David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence Katz, Christina Patterson and John Van Reenen found that the labor share is falling across the whole economy, but not within companies. In other words, companies themselves aren’t substituting machines for workers, as we might expect them to do if robots were getting really cheap. Instead, the economy is simply shifting resources toward a few large companies that are very capital-intensive, and away from the more numerous, smaller companies that use more human labor. Autor et al. blame increasing monopoly power for labor’s decline.

    Then there’s the idea that landowners, not corporate overlords, are taking money away from workers. While analyzing the work of French economist Thomas Piketty, Matt Rognlie found that national income accounts showed an increasing amount flowing to owners of land. More recently, economist Dietrich Vollrath examined a paper by Simcha Barkai about rising profits, and found that profits from owner-occupied housing also rose sharply.

    Supporters of the other theses have yet to really grapple with the landlords explanation. The reason is that the people pushing this fourth idea justify it based on national income accounts, while supporters of the other three explanations tend to look at corporate behavior up close. When economists speak in different languages, it’s harder to have a debate.

    So that leaves us with as many as four competing explanations, each with some reasonably compelling circumstantial evidence in its favor. What to do? Eventually, economists will probably find new, better ways of putting these theories head to head. But in the meantime, it’s worth asking whether some of these explanations could actually be measuring different parts of the same phenomenon.

    A recent blog post by Paul Krugman offers a possible insight. Krugman notes that it’s possible that some companies are more capital-intensive and some are more labor-intensive -- think of factories making televisions with robots while others assemble them by hand. When the productivity of the capital-intensive companies improves -- due to mechanization, or the internet, or globalization -- it shifts production toward those companies, and lowers wages in the process.

    Now suppose that those capital-intensive companies are a small handful of superstar multinationals, while the labor-intensive companies are a bunch of small, local competitors. Improvement in robots, information technology and globalization would therefore be shifting resources away from the many and toward the few -- in other words, exactly the same phenomenon that Autor et al. describe. Huge companies are probably more capable of building automated factories, using online supply chains to outsource production to China.

    So monopoly power, robots and globalization might all be part of one unified phenomenon -- new technologies that disproportionately help big, capital-intensive multinational companies. Meanwhile, technology that augments human labor-power -- for example, cheap energy -- might have languished in recent decades, due to the failure to replace oil and gas with better power sources. Hence, small companies that use lots of workers might be losing out in the age of information technology.

    That theory still doesn’t explain how landlords might fit into the picture. But it provides a possible way to unify at least some of the competing explanations for this disturbing economic trend.
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  10. For its nutrition Soylent 2.0 is perhaps the most ecologically efficient food ever created. You may think me smug but I and many other people have poured their lives into creating something amazing and we have every right to be proud of it. Using algae ingredients over farmland, avoiding refrigeration, spoilage, animal products, retail, cooking, using entirely recyclable packaging and considering the long term potential of synthesising the whole thing biologically off grid provides unprecedented environmental savings and potential. It is sterilized and packaged in a continuous, automated, scalable process with negligible human labor. It really is amazing. Soylent makes up about 80% of my calories and I eat out the rest of the time. This lifestyle is absolutely affordable to the mass American market, with people on average spending $600 / month on food 1 » . The time savings could be used for economic gains from studying, or just allow people to relax more or catch up on some sleep, which America needs a lot more than organic produce. I never plan to give up traditional food and don’t expect others to. I love meeting people that are passionate about food. I want food to be made by people that enjoy making it, and are good at making it. I’m just not one of them. Having fewer kitchens that are more heavily utilized is leagues more efficient than everyone having their own kitchen and ingredient inventory sitting around unused most of the time.

    Similarly, ridesharing is obviously more sustainable than individual car ownership. Automobile utilization in the United States is as low as 3% according to some studies. UberPool alone could yield enormous savings by moving twice as many people per car per gallon. Not only is the price broadly accessible, it could save millions from the debt and risks that come with car ownership. I do take public transit when it makes sense. For the record I think Los Angeles mayor Garcetti is doing a fantastic job of investing in public transit. Sharing also accelerates the adoption of newer technologies since the aggregate savings are so great. Consider how quickly Uber drivers adopted hybrid cars to save fuel. A personal vehicle may stay on the road for 25 years, leading to “clunkers” with soft tires wasting fuel. Every Uber driver I’ve spoken to enjoys the job for its flexibility. However, part of me knows that they will soon be replaced by self driving cars. More on that later.

    Finally, asserting that every factory in China is a sweatshop is prejudiced. I have personally seen factories in the United States (Las Vegas if you’re wondering) with worse working conditions than what I saw when I lived in China. Surely we both have room to improve, but every supplier I use is audited by third parties. Where do you think the clothes in American retail stores come from now? I find it more efficient and cheaper to buy direct and actually use the product than to have clothes sit around in warehouses and retail outlets for months or years. When I donate my clothes they get washed, which takes energy, but it’s in a larger centralized facility so more laundry gets done per person per machine. Again, higher utilization. It would be wasteful for me to run entire loads of wash with my few pieces of clothing. And shipping via ocean is shockingly efficient.

    Let’s take the Emma Maersk container ship for example, even though the newer Triple E class ships are 35% more efficient. A trek from Hong Kong to Los Angeles takes about 14 days and burns 1,209,600 gallons of fuel. That’s a lot but it’s moving 15,000 shipping containers, each capable of fitting 36,864 t shirts. So, each shirt is responsible for 8mL of oil, which is what I would burn driving a car 266 feet. Shipping a container from China to LA uses even less fuel than trucking it from San Francisco. Buying “local” is ineffective from a sustainability perspective. It’s just ingroup bias.

    On the production side I lean mostly toward polyester, which is not only easily recyclable, it has a negligible water footprint. For energy, a polyester t shirt takes about 12.5MJ to make, which is 3.5kWh, less than half a cycle in a washer and dryer. So if you’re not washing a bunch of clothes at once it can be more efficient to make new clothes than to wash them. 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 »
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