Four Futures: using science fiction to challenge late stage capitalism and Thatcher's "no alternative"

Margaret Thatcher's 1979 declaration that "there is no alternative" to neoliberal capitalism is more than a rallying cry: it's a straitjacket on our imaginations, constraining our ability to imagine what kinds of other worlds we might live in. But in science fiction, alternatives to market economies abound (and a surprising number of them are awarded prestigious awards by the Libertarian Futurist Society!), and it is through these tales that sociologist Peter Frase asks us to think through four different ways things could go, in a slim, sprightly book called Four Futures -- a book that assures us that there is no more business as usual, and an alternative must be found.

When robots take routine middle-class jobs, those workers drop out of the workforce

In Disappearing Routine Jobs: Who, How, and Why? economists from USC, UBC and Manchester University document how the automation of "routine" jobs (welders, bank tellers, etc) that pay middle class wages has pushed those workers out of the job market entirely, or pushed them into low-paying, insecure employment. Read the rest

Chinese social media went a-flutter at this photo of an apparent App Store clickfarmer

This year-old photo of a woman seated at a wall of Iphones went viral on Chinese social media, where it was identified as a clickfarmer whose job is to repeatedly install apps on multiple phones in order to inflate their App Store ranks. Read the rest

The Triumph of the 1%

Colin Gordon at Dissent summarizes new national income statistics for America's wealthiest, something that seems likely to worsen under Trump. Since Reagan, the US has been been edging toward income share levels not seen since before World War II. Read the rest

Folding Beijing: the 2016 Hugo-winning novelette about the obsolescence of labor and the preservation of privilege

Belatedly, I've finally read Hao Jingfang's novelette "Folding Beijing," which won the Hugo Award last summer in Kansas City: it's a story about a future in which the great cities continue to be engines of economic power, but where automation eventually makes most of the people in the cities obsolete -- a problem solved by dividing the city's day and geography up by strata, using marvellous origami buildings that appear and disappear, and suspended animation technologies that whisk away great portions of the city's unneeded proletariat for most of the day. Read the rest

How Lloyds of London solved the precarious market for kidnapping ransoms

Kidnapping ransom markets are really tough: it's hard to convey the demand, hard to arrange the payoff, hard to get the kidnapping victim back in one piece -- but Lloyds of London has largely solved this problem by monopolizing the market for kidnapping insurance, then setting standards for the amounts of ransom to be paid and the conditions for payment. Kidnappers know that if they kill their prey, Lloyds will never pay them again. Read the rest

Robots vs the middle class: everyone's endangered, white people less so

On Common Dreams, Paul Buchheit rounds up a ton of scholarly/economic papers on the ways that automation is coming to employment niches occupied by well-educated middle-class professionals, who face the same dilemma their "low-skilled" industrial colleagues have been living through for three decades and counting. Read the rest

Excellent, deep series on Uber's Ponzi-scheme economics

For the past week, Naked Capitalism has run a series of articles by transportation industry expert Hubert Horan on the economic shenanigans of Uber, which cooks the numbers it shows investors, drivers and the press to make it seem like something other than a black box that uses arrogance and lawlessness to make a bet on establishing a monopoly on transport in the world's major cities. Read the rest

Superstar academic economists charge $1000+/hr to defend disastrous corporate megamergers

In 1977 Richard Posner (then a prof at the University of Chicago's notorious ultra-libertarian school; now a federal judge) teamed up with an economist and law student to form Lexecon, which has since grown to a firm worth more than $130,000,000, whose major business is to serve as intellectual guns-for-hire who will produce plausible-seeming economic models defending giant corporate mergers against anti-trust regulators. Read the rest

US unemployment timelapse highlights 2008 crisis

It's difficult to comprehend the onset and severity of the 2008 financial crisis, but this timelapse map of US unemployment data from 1990 through July 2016 helps put things in context. Read the rest

Despite Brexit, the UK is going to end up sending billions to the EU

If the UK wants access to the EU markets, it's going to have to pay billions of pounds, something that the Brexit Leave campaign conveniently neglected to mention (they also conveniently neglected to mention that even if this wasn't true, the money the UK used to pay to the EU wasn't going to be spent on the NHS). Read the rest

Internet shutdowns cost the world at least $2.4 billion last year

Deji from Access Now writes, "How much does it cost to shut down the internet? A new report by the Brookings Institution assesses costs during a one year period between 2015-2016 and found immense losses. It's just a baseline too -- and doesn't even include things like mobile money or lost tax receipts. The real number is likely much higher." Read the rest

Millennials are legit screwed

The Economic Innovation Group and Ernst and Young surveyed 1200 millennials and found that, basically, everything sucks. Read the rest

July: Vancouver imposes a 15% tax on foreign real estate speculators; September: home sales drop by a third

Vancouver has been wracked by a white-hot property bubble driven primarily by offshore speculators, mostly Chinese, who have driven up the price of housing beyond the means of working Vancouverites, crippling the city's daily life as workers, students and families struggle to find somewhere -- anywhere -- to live. Read the rest

Report paints UK as the sick man of Europe

The pro-Brexit narrative insisted that the UK was one of Europe's greatest, most vibrant economies, and that, unshackled from European regulation, the country would be able to soar to the heights it deserves. Read the rest

Shadow Regulation: the secret laws that giant corporations cook up in back rooms

The winner-take-all economy has turned virtually every industry into a cartel (four record labels, two cable companies, two phone operating systems, etc) who operate without fear of competition regulation, allowing representatives of a few companies to gather in closed-door meetings to cook up operating agreements that end up having the force of law. Read the rest

Chinese real estate bubble is "biggest in history"

Wang Jianlin made billions speculating on Chinese real-estate; now that he's diversified into buying Hollywood movie studios and chains of movie theaters, the richest man in China is prepared to say what many have known: the Chinese property market is a huge, deadly bubble that's ripe to burst. Read the rest

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