Digest: 23 June 2013

Abstract

Disruptive technological advances can be expected to impinge upon knowledge workers just as previous advances undermined manual workers — A new World Bank report finds that carbon pricing schemes are on the rise in countries around the world but not in the US — Recent research that shows how certain viruses effectively act as a back-up immune system for the host by preventing runaway build-up of particular bacteria –  The achievements of the Millennium Development Goals must be understood before the next steps can be established – After decades of prosperity, Detroit’s industry largely collapsed and the major part of the cost of failure is being born by its workers — The argument for the use of drones as a matter of national defense includes that they are highly effective and that their negative repercussions are inflated — The US surveillance program will now be endlessly debated, resulting in something not much different from what is in place now, and a lot of people will know far more about it, which is both good and not good – David Koch’s role as a sponsor of public broadcasting in the context of the airing of the film “Park Avenue” on PBS has brought into question risks of self-censorship when the president of a public station provided Koch with the opportunity for an unprecedented rebuttal — We would not have so much difficulty trusting the intelligence community and Wall Street if each of these centers of power did not combine inordinate power and lack of accountability – New marketing efforts are focused on personality profiling through analysis of peoples’ tweets and IBM have produced software to profile a personality from as few as 50 tweets.

Economics

In The Age of Smart Machines, The Economist discusses the new wave of disruptive technological advances and how they can be expected to impinge upon knowledge workers just as previous advances undermined manual workers.  Smart machines are developing more quickly than the policy that regulates them.  While for some this growth holds utopian promise, others see the potential for a growing societal rift between those who are tapped in and those who are not.  The new technologies will increase the competitive edge of those who are able to harness them to their benefit – those who design them, and those who can best afford them.  Widening inequality and increased social exclusion feed increase the probability of a backlash, which will have its own repercussions.

Environmental

In Congress Hates Carbon Pricing. The Rest of the World Doesn’t, Brad Plumer (for The Washington Post) discusses a new World Bank report which finds that carbon pricing schemes are on the rise in countries around the world – the US (as a whole) is a notable exception to this trend.  While countries with such schemes in place or in process make up one fifth of the world’s carbon emissions, the schemes do not cover all types of emissions so only 7.7% of world emissions have actually been priced.  This could be increased to as much as 50% if countries such as Brazil and China, and other emerging economies get on board.  While this trend is encouraging, it is insufficient to combat the worst effects of global warming, and the schemes themselves are vulnerable to political policy shifts.

In Airlines Agree to Curb their Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2020, Fiona Harvey (for The Guardian) discusses a resolution passed by the International Air Transport Association that calls on world governments to manage carbon emissions from air travel.  The resolution calls for some form of carbon trading scheme to be set in place, but does not agree to a global limit on GHG emissions or on how the scheme should be implemented.  Environmental campaigners have argued that this scheme is insufficient as it allows airlines to buy cheap carbon credits which will have the effect of dis-incentivising what is actually required – shifts towards practices that provide actual reductions in carbon emissions.

In Microbiomics: A Virus Shield, The Economist discusses recent research that shows how certain viruses collect in mucus secreted by soft-tissue membranes (for example in the mouths of people) and there parasitise bacteria.  Recent discussions regarding the human biome have focused on the extent to which we rely on bacterial colonies for the healthy functioning of our immune systems.  This new study adds another facet to the importance of the protection of balance in the overall organism – the viruses effectively act as a back-up immune system for the host by preventing runaway build-up of particular bacteria.

Politics

In Own the Goals: What the Millenium Development Goals Have Accomplished, John McArthur (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the current status of the Millennium Development Goals, and the importance of understanding what exactly has been achieved so far before considering what the next steps should be.  Prior to the MGDs the lack of a unified front hindered efforts to tackle global poverty.  The MDGs gave a foundation not only for states, but also for various other public and private organisations to work together.  The goals expire in 2015 and steps are underway to establish the new framework to be employed.

In The Looting of Detroit, Richard Eskow (for Nation of Change) discusses the Detroit, specifically the repercussions of its economic downfall.  After decades of prosperity, Detroit’s industry largely collapsed and is currently in the care of an unelected “City Manager” under Michigan’s “Emergency Manager” law.  Detroit’s debts are enormous and to cover them the city is selling off assets, but the returns will cover only a small fraction of what is owed.  The article describes how the major part of the cost of Detroit’s failure is being born by its workers, and also that a similarly dire situation is currently taking place in Chicago.

In Why Drones Work: The Case for Washington’s Weapon of Choice, Daniel Byman (for The Brookings Institution) discusses the use of drones as a matter of national defense and provides an argument for their continued use – including that they work, and their negative repercussions are inflated.  He acknowledges that some arguments against the manner of their use so far are valid, but that others are less so.  For example, he points out various reasons why it is important to have in place a clear rule book governing their use in extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings; but he also points out civilian casualties of drone use have been inflated, and that their use is vastly preferable to alternatives.

Social

In The Real Reason You’re Mad at the NSA, John McLaughlin (for Foreign Policy) discusses the role of intelligence in the US, and suggests that there are three under-appreciated reasons for the strong negative response to the US surveillance program: good intelligence inevitably clashes with a free society, we are young where intelligence is concerned, and we are in a time of particular governmental distrust.  However, he argues, the US has the most transparent and accountable intelligence program in the world.  Ultimately he suggests that the surveillance program will now be endlessly debated, resulting in something not much different from what is in place now, and a lot of people will know far more about it – which is both good and not good.

In The Media: A Word From Our Sponsor, Jane Meyer (for The New Yorker) discusses the role of sponsorship in media self-censorship, specifically the result of David Koch’s role as a sponsor of public broadcasting in the context of the airing of the film “Park Avenue” on PBS.  ”Park Avenue” is a “pointed exploration of the growing economic inequality in America and a meditation on the often self-justifying mind-set” of the 1%.  Koch is a board member of New York’s public television outlet WNET, and when WNET was set to air the film its president became concerned and made an unusual approach to Koch providing him the opportunity for an unprecedented rebuttal.

In The Two Centers of Unaccountable Power in America, and Their Consequences, Robert Reich (for Nation of Change) discusses the two great centers of unaccountable power in the US: the intelligence community and Wall Street.  He points out that under other circumstances we would not have so much difficulty trusting each of these centers of power, but under the current circumstances the toxic combination of inordinate power and lack of accountability are sufficient to have worried both the political left and right.

In Personality, Social Media and Marketing: No Hiding Place, The Economist discusses efforts at IBM to improve marketing firms’ ability to understand customers. Currently billions of dollars are wasted through misguided direct-marketing efforts.  New efforts are focused on personality profiling through analysis of peoples’ tweets.  After analysing three months worth of data from 90 million users of Twitter, researchers at IBM have produced software to profile a personality from as few as 50 tweets.