You may think that Wikipedia, Twitter, Snapchat, Google Maps, and so on are valuable. But, as far as G.D.P. is concerned, they barely exist. The M.I.T. economist Erik Brynjolfsson points out that, according to government statistics, the “information sector” of the economy—which includes publishing, software, data services, and telecom—has barely grown since the late eighties, even though we’ve seen an explosion in the amount of information and data that individuals and businesses consume. “That just feels totally wrong,” he told me.
And now for a smart take on social media and digital culture.
Wall Street’s focus on quarterly results has led to record corporate profit margins but a slump in wages as a percentage of gross domestic product, Blodget argues. As an analyst, I ask, didn’t you contribute to that short-termism? “I certainly was not as passionate about that then as I am now,” he concedes. He worries, however, that relentless cost-cutting will end badly. “The endgame of that is that the economy is going to collapse because … there will be nobody to sell anything to any more,” he says, both hands chopping the table.
It is probably possible to justify subsidization of child rearing through some kind of economist-friendly rhetoric about externalities and long-term fiscal sustainability. But in the real world, I don’t think that’s even the best way to think about it. (In ecological terms, after all, an additional human being is the ultimate negative externality). One of the main goals of any kind of political community is the enduring of the political community. That requires the rule of law and blah blah blah, but it also obviously requires there to continue to be living, breathing human beings who belong to the political community. Which is to say that children, though expensive, differ from luxury cars in that they are human beings. By the same token, you could note that while it is illegal to take your Porsche (“theft”) and also illegal to take your baby (“kidnapping”), we have different words for these crimes and one is punished more severely than the other. Indeed, babies aside, if I were to destroy Mankiw’s Porsche, that would be punished much less severely than if I were to destroy Mankiw himself (“murder”) because, again, Mankiw is a person. It’s not just that people are considered very valuable. Even if I destroyed 10 or 20 Porsches, the punishment would be light compared with if I murdered someone in cold blood. Cars aren’t people. Babies aren’t luxury consumer goods. That’s just how it is.
Back with a vengeance.
Because of the premium it places on conscientiousness. There’s so much free material on the Internet you can learn from, and some people are pure self-starters: they pick up computers and teach themselves everything. Certainly there are millions of people like that. But at the same time, I think it’s a pretty small percentage of the population. Most of us are not pure self-starters; most people need role models, they need coaches, they need exemplars, they maybe need some discipline or some rewards. We need to be motivated. [Motivation] will be a big growth sector.
How so? According to the paper (with the unassuming title “Aggregate Supply in the United States: Recent Developments and Implications for the Conduct of Monetary Policy”), our seemingly endless slump has done long-term damage through multiple channels. The long-term unemployed eventually come to be seen as unemployable; business investment lags thanks to weak sales; new businesses don’t get started; and existing businesses skimp on research and development.
Marty Sullivan figured out how the world’s biggest companies avoided billions in taxes. Here’s how he wants to stop them.
Yet beneath this veneer of logic and restraint are the passion and moral sensibility of a crusader. Sullivan’s radar is finely tuned to pick up any hint of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty. And while the economist in him understands and accepts that corporations have a mandate to maximize profits through “tax efficiency,” the kid from Jersey City and St. Peter’s Prep is quietly outraged by government officials who so readily yield to the corporations’ self-serving entreaties.
“What politicians keep forgetting is that you can’t ‘partner’ with the corporate community when it comes to writing the tax laws,” Sullivan explains. “They’re not partners — they are adversaries.”
Sometime in the years leading up to September 17, 2011, zombies had gone from being associated with a terror of mob rule to the promise of release from an inescapably all-encompassing system. To be clear: Zombies were not being equated with corporate capitalism – they had become the revolution itself. Zombies had become the alternative to the system with no alternative.
Graeber believes that neoliberalism, judged as a political project, has “succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism – and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semi-feudal capitalism we happen to have right now – is the only viable economic system.” As he sees it, the political project of neoliberalism is to ensure that “under no conditions can alternatives, or anyone proposing alternatives, be seen to experience success.”
…I would like to believe that neoiberalism won’t end in a catastrophic collapse and global dieback. I’d like to believe that utopia can come about by means of peaceful protest or enlightened deliberation by democratically elected bodies. I believe Kim Stanley Robinson is right, that “utopia has gone from being a somewhat minor literary problem to a necessary survival strategy.” But I think the choice Robinson gives, of “utopia or catastrophe” is a false one. We are past the time when utopians can shy away from the catastrophic. Catastrophe is the trench beyond which utopia lays.
- Personal exceptionalism
- Dichotomous thinking
- Correct overgeneralization
- Blank canvas thinking
Think of three people. Anna, who was being paid a salary of $60,000, is told that this year she will be paid only $57,000 — she’s being given a $3,000 pay cut. She gets very angry. Betty, in the country next door, was also being paid a salary of $60,000, and gets no pay rise, despite the fact that there’s 5% inflation. She’s not happy, but she’s not as angry as Anna. Finally there’s Carly, who is being paid a salary of $50,000, and who got a $10,000 bonus last year; this year, she’s told, she’ll get a $7,000 bonus. She’s pretty happy.
All three women, of course, end up with effectively the same amount of money both last year and this year. But because of social norms, Carly accepts her 5% pay cut with much more equanimity than Betty, who in turn is significantly happier than Anna. An economy with more Carlys and fewer Annas is going to have less sticky wages — and, as a result, lower unemployment.
Aligned Incentives. Probably the most important thing to me, as far as how to structure a business.
In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
BOOM! GREAT OPENING PARAGRAPH
There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law?