US economist Robert Gordon makes the argument that robots aren’t going to take all our jobs. He is convincing, although I would add that robots don’t have to replace you in order for business models based on new technology to wipe out your industry. Like, there’s no robot journalists – except for Keith Ng – but the business model for the job has collapsed; now the ad revenue goes to companies like Facebook who provide the platform for over a billion users to generate content for them for free.
What with all my Russian revolution reading I keep wondering what Marx would say about this tendency for ‘workers’ to add value to companies by working for free. Mostly I think about this when I’m checking out and bagging my own groceries at the supermarket.
I am now obsessed with and addicted to reading about the US election campaign. My favourite commentator at the moment is democratic blogger Josh Marshall – but who else is good? I’d be very interested in reading an intelligent informed right-wing perspective, if that’s even a thing in contemporary US politics.
A parenting columnist says she’s been told she “should be raped” and sent photos of dead babies – and other women with an online presence say harassment has become a scary norm.
A new study led by security company Norton, in which 500 women took part, has found 72 percent of New Zealand women under 30 experience online harassment.
One in four women said they had received threats relating to death, rape and sexual assaults.
I am morbidly fascinated by this phenomenon. I watched the Tickled documentary recently and bizarre though it was, it seemed telling that the movie was about online harassment of men when the majority of the harassment is directed at women, but this seems to have become normalised so is not considered noteworthy. Who does this? Is it a tiny number of prolific offenders, like the villain in Tickled, or is the behavior very widespread? Is it ‘normal’, in the sense that a proportion of any group of men over history will send women anonymous threats, if given the technology, or is it happening now in response to wider changes in the culture? Why are some people so enraged by, of all things, parenting columnists that they feel compelled to threaten and abuse them? The article talks about the Harmful Digital Communication Act which National bought in last year: 38 people charged; 37 are men; according to the Police High Tech Unit their ages range from 15 to 61. The law does not seem to be acting as a deterrent.
Dame Anne Salmond writes:
The rise and spread of neo-liberalism since the 1980s has been a remarkable phenomenon. At its heart, it is based on a simple, utterly amoral idea ” that of the cost-benefit calculating individual. Life is understood as a competitive struggle among individuals. Each seeks to minimise their costs and maximise their benefits.
I have a more generous view of the neoliberal project: as something that genuinely must have seemed like a good idea at the time. By the 1980s the failure of socialist, centrally planned economies – both in the Soviet bloc, and in places like the UK and New Zealand – seemed very evident. Free market economies obviously generated more wealth and more prosperity than socialist ones and there seemed, as Keynes put it, to be a fundamental link between free markets and individual freedom. So why not do the opposite of the Soviet bloc: minimise the state and maximise the free market? Won’t that give you just heaps of prosperity and freedom?
I find Robert Reich’s answer to the failure of neoliberalism the most compelling. He points out that the state creates the free market. It creates money and regulates its supply, it creates the legal system through which contracts are enforced. It guarantees the solvency of the financial sector, it protects property rights and guards against catastrophic market failure (or, at least, is supposed to). You can’t take the state out of the free market because it creates the free market and regulates almost every aspect of its existence. So what you get under the deregulated, neoliberal model are the wealthy using the political system to set the parameters of the market to privilege the already privileged. Labour is taxed but capital is not; benefit fraud is investigated and punished but financial crimes (mostly) are not, profits are privitised but costs are socialised, and so on. And all of these things are defended as ‘what the market wants’.
The result is less growth and less prosperity because capital can maximise profits through gaming the political system rather than creating new products and businesses and jobs. The economy is based on rent-seeking rather than wealth creation; the hypertrophied, wildly profitable, politically powerful but completely unproductive finance sectors characteristic of neoliberal economies functioning as exhibit A. Neoliberalism hasn’t failed as awfully as no-holds-barred socialism, but it has failed, not because it was amoral, or evil or ruthless – the intentions were good – but just because it simply didn’t work.
Labour have figured out a way to leverage the housing crisis as a tool to grow their voter contact database.
I don’t think we’re living in a ‘post truth’ age because technology (like, how many people believed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?) but I do like that the Guardian column mooting the idea opened with a take-down of the David Cameron pig smear, because almost every left-wing activist I see on social media bemoaning the horrid lies of the right also seems to perpetuate the ‘Cameron fucked a pig’ lie every few hours.
There is a very famous photo from, I think, Life magazine during the Luce period that showed a political victory parade of cars, with the winner (a US state governor, I think, or maybe a presidential nominee?) standing in the foreground in the back of a truck, looking flushed and ecstatic. It’s been described as the greatest political photo of all time. But I can’t remember the photographer, or google up the photo. Anyone?
Update: Thanks to Brad, in the comments who found it. Behold:
I finished reading the Hobbit to my daughter a few weeks ago. It started out badly:
Me: I loved this book when I was a little boy, and I think you’re going to love it too. Now, (clears throat). In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . .
Sadie: Is there a girl in this book?
Me: Not . . . Maybe in Laketown? I don’t think so though. His subsequent works have girls. I mean, women. Eowyn kills a Nazgul!
Sadie: I want a book with a girl in it.
After some negotiation (I promised to read Pippi Longstocking afterwards: it was dreadful) we persevered and the book was mostly enjoyed. It is a very uneven work. It starts out as an episodic children’s book with various playful narrative asides, like the C S Lewis books, and ends with the extended sequence on the Lonely Mountain with a far more adult tone. My daughter’s favourite thing about it was the map, and every few pages we would stop and check where Bilbo was on it. I remember also being delighted with the map when I read this book as a child. But which book had the first ever fictional map in it? I’ve looked on the internet and I can’t find out. People seem to think it was a Victorian thing. Stephenson, maybe?
Now we’re on to Five on a Treasure Island. It is fashionable to sneer at Enid Blyton, and okay yes it has dated badly in some respects, and there is a character called ‘Dick’ which leads to many amusing sentences. But in narrative terms it is possibly the best children’s novel I have ever read. You could teach a course on novel-writing using this book. Also, George’s refusal to conform to gender norms reads as very progressive today; Blyton anticipates Judith Butler.
Via the Herald:
Housing New Zealand will spend $2 billion to build and buy more than 4000 new state houses after an apparent Government backtrack.
At least 3200 of those properties will be in Auckland, the state housing corporation confirmed today.
It comes as the Government decides to forego its dividend from Housing New Zealand, which would have be worth $92 million over the next two years.
The dividends were included in the May Budget, but ministers revealed yesterday that they would no longer be paid.
Finance Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand this morning that a dividend was less important than the corporation expanding its housing stock.
“That’s the bit that matters. If we are going to have over $1 billion in investment, the $50m dividend is neither here nor there.
“When they’ve got a big capital investment programme, you don’t take the dividend because they keep those earnings and use them, in this case, to build more houses.”
Great, if it happens and these guys don’t end up paying the money to a generous donor in exchange for a thousand pillow-forts in a muddy field (‘I haven’t actually looked into it Guyon, but I actually think most kiwis think pillow forts are actually really suitable accommodation’).
But assuming it goes through, privitising Housing New Zealand was supposed to be National’s big accomplishment this term, along with the ‘social investment model’, which the housing debacle completely blew out of the water. Now they got nothing. There’s an entry in Alan Clark’s diaries, during Thatcher’s third term when he realises that the government isn’t actually doing anything meaningful, anymore, and that they have nothing to show for all the work and stress and sacrifice but ‘the passing of time and intrusion of age’. It must feel a bit like that in the Beehive these days, which I suppose is why they’re announcing policy reversals on twitter.
I am still reading the Deutscher biography of Trotsky. It is excellent. We’re up to the Red Terror. This passage:
The words ‘we have made a modest beginning’ had an ominous ring. Having accomplished a revolution, the Bolsheviks could not renounce revolutionary terror; and the terror has its own momentum. Every revolutionary party at first imagines that its task is simple: it has to suppress a ‘handful’ of tyrants or exploiters. It is true that usually the tyrants and exploiters form an insignificant minority. But the old ruling class has not lived in isolation from the rest of society. In the course of its long domination it has surrounded itself by a network of institutions embracing groups and individuals of many classes; and it has brought to life many attachments and loyalties which even a revolution does not destroy altogether. The anatomy of society is never so simple that it is possible surgically to separate one of the limbs from the rest of the body. Every social class is connected with its immediate neighbour by many almost imperceptible gradations. The aristocracy shades off into the upper middle class; the latter into the lower layers of the bourgeoisie; the lower middle class branches off into the working class; and the proletariat, especially in Russia, is bound by innumerable filiations to the peasantry. The political parties are similarly interconnected. The revolution cannot deal a blow at the party most hostile and dangerous to it without forcing not only that party but its immediate neighbour to answer with a counterblow. The revolution therefore treats its enemy’s immediate neighbour as its enemy. When it hits this secondary enemy, the latter’s neighbour, too, is aroused and drawn into the struggle. The process goes on like a chain reaction until the party of the revolution arouses against itself and suppresses all the parties which until recently crowded the political scene.