Boing Boing 

Lessig's Walk Across New Hampshire: animation explains crusade against electoral corruption

Brian sez, "Lawrence Lessig, former EFF board member, chair of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, founder of the Center for Internet and Society, founding board member of Creative Commons, and former board member of the Free Software Foundation is taking on a new project -- walking across New Hampshire.

"The idea is to raise awareness of the massive amount of political corruption in the American democratic system, and make it the #1 issue in New Hampshire in time for the 2016 Presidential Primaries. This three-minute video (from the guy who did the Windows 8 and Data Caps animations) explains the project, called the New Hampshire Rebellion, in cartoon form."

Animated: How the New Hampshire Rebellion will make corruption the #1 issue of 2016 (Thanks, Brian)

Nailing the neoliberal end-game

"The possibility of success is used to call the majority of people failures." -Molly Crabapple, Filthy Lucre

America is in love with its libraries: Pew report


The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a new report today entitled How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities (PDF), that shows a very large majority of Americans value libraries, viewing them as critical to their communities and vital to providing services that ensure equality of opportunity for people who would otherwise be at a terrible disadvantage in life.

This is in contrast to a few privileged blowhards who've opined that the library is an obsolete institution in the age of the Internet -- and worse, an unaffordable luxury in a time of austerity and recession. The mission of libraries is to help the public navigate information and become informed -- a mission that is more important than ever. As Eleanor Crumblehulme said, "Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague."

Read on for the study's key findings.

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Replace bank chiefs with small dogs: Chinese top economist


China's former chief economist has excoriated the nation's banking system, which charges high fees and maintains a greedy-large gap between its deposit interest and lending interest rates.

Such a business provides no value, and is merely parasitic on the people: "With this kind of operational model, banks will continue making money even if all the bank presidents go home to sleep and you replaced them by putting a small dog in their seats."

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Precarity is the new normal

Jon Evans is incandescent on the subject of the Great Bifurcation, as the economic equality gap yawns wider and wider. He puts into words the thing that has literally kept me up nights for the past year. What is to be done? (via Making Light)

NSF study shows more than 90% of US businesses view copyright, patent and trademark as "not important"


In March 2012, the National Science Foundation released the results of its "Business Research and Development and Innovation Survey" study, a rigorous, careful, wide-ranging longitudinal study on the use of trademark, copyright, and patents in American business. The study concluded that, overall, most businesses don't rate these protections as a significant factor in their success (in 2010, 87.2% said trademarks were "not important"; 90.1% said the same of copyright, and 96.2% said the same of patents).

What's striking about the survey is that even fields that are traditionally viewed as valuing these protections were surprisingly indifferent to them -- for example, only 51.4% of software businesses rated copyright as "very important."

In a very good post, GWU Political Science PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael contrasts the obscurity of this landmark study with the incredible prominence enjoyed by a farcical USPTO study released last year that purported to show that "the entire U.S. economy relies on some form of IP" and that "IP-intensive industries" created 40 million American jobs in 2010. The study's methodology was a so sloppy as to be unsalvageable -- for example, the study claimed that anyone who worked at a grocery store was a beneficiary of "strong IP protection."

The NSF study doesn't merely totally refute the USPTO's findings, it does so using a well-documented, statistically valid, neutral methodology that was calculated to find the truth, rather than scoring political points for the copyright lobby. It's a study in contrasts between evidence-based policy production and policy-based evidence production.

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Interview with Sol Yurick, author of The Warriors


Geoff from BLDGBLOG sez, "A few years ago, I interviewed novelist Sol Yurick, author of The Warriors, for BLDGBLOG -- but a variety of circumstances meant it just sat in my hard drive for the past four years. But after rediscovering the interview in my old files, and after Yurick himself passed away back in January, it seemed like there was no time like the present to publish this, finally."

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Charlie Stross: Bitcoin should die in a fire

Charlie Stross's Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire presents a set of scorching denunciations of Bitcoin based on its technical, political, and economic demerits. On the way, Stross takes some vicious shots at libertarianism. It's one of those Christmas-season hornet's-nest kickings that are fun to watch -- at a great distance.

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Mandatory bug-bounties from major vendors

Brian Krebs proposes that software vendors should be forced to pay a bounty on all newly discovered vulnerabilities in their products at rates that exceed those paid by spy agencies and criminal gangs. He says that the bill for this would be substantially less than one percent of gross revenues, and that it would represent a massive overall savings when you factor in the cost to all the businesses and individuals who are harmed by security vulnerabilities. He doesn't explain what to do with popular, free/open software though.

EU politicans who got raises worked less; MEPs with pay-cuts worked more

In Salaries and Work Effort: An Analysis of the European Union Parliamentarians [PDF], a paper by professors Naci Mocan and Duha Altindag in the latest Economics Journal, the researchers take advantage of a recent change in the pay of Members of the European Parliament to examine the relationship between pay and work.

Until 2009, each EU nation chose how much to pay its MEPs, and salaries were highly variant. When they were harmonized in 2009, some MEPs got paycuts, other got raises. The researchers examined MEPs' behavior before and after, and concluded that the MEPs who got raises did less work (attending meetings and sessions) than they had under lower salary conditions; while MEPs who took cuts started showing up for work more.

The UK just gave massive, above-inflation raises to its MPs, and part of the argument was that you have to pay for quality. That proposition does not appear to accord with the data.

The unique event allowed the economists to compare the effects of pay rises and decreases on MEPs' performances between July 2004 and December 2011. From this they drew a startling conclusion: MEPs who got an increase ended up attending fewer meetings, while those who had a pay cut raised their attendance rate. Each percentage increase in salary resulted in a decrease of around 0.04% in the number of days an MEP attended parliament. For example, the average French MEP, whose salary increased from about €76,000 to €92,000, ended up missing an additional parliamentary meeting a year.

"We find that a decrease in salaries motivates parliamentarians to increase their attendance," the economists write. The increase in salary also had a negative impact on the number of written or oral questions asked by parliamentarians.

"European parliamentarians are responsible for passing laws that govern the member countries," the two academics write. "They have control over the EU budget and they supervise the other EU institutions. So given the significance of the job, it might be presumed that the effort MEPs put into their work would not be influenced by their salary. The results of our analysis show that this is not the case."

Paying politicians too much harms their work ethic, study claims [Jamie Doward/The Guardian]

Presenting political argument on Twitter, and the "prestige economy"





Here's a fabulous interview with activist Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and researcher who made a great, concise argument against unpaid internship as a series of four tweets last June. Policymic talks with Kendzior about her work on the "prestige economy" and the widening wealth-gap, and also talks about the theory of presenting arguments over Twitter, a subject on which Kendzior is every bit as smart as she is on matters economic and political.

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Differences between life when you're poor and life when you're middle class

Beth Pratt writes, "Being poor is different than being middle class. Killer Martinis explains just how different in this post she calls 'Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts'. She begins by telling us that 'rest is a luxury for the rich' and goes on from there."

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Should you short the London property bubble?


Economist Tim Harford answers my question: How would you short the London property bubble? in a column that also asks the important question: should you?

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GDP misses out the value of stuff the net makes free


In the New Yorker, James Surowiecki looks to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's forthcoming book The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies for a discussion of one of the major problems with using GDP as a means of assessing the economic health of a nation. Because GDP uses the dollar-value of all transactions as a proxy for economic vibrancy, it discounts to zero any productivity improvements that result in expensive things becoming free. For example, if every technology company has to license a Microsoft operating system for every one of its servers and products, that's great for GDP: it adds billions to the national bottom line. But when GNU/Linux comes along and zeros out the cost of operating systems for your data-center and embedded systems, GDP drops.

But the impact on the nation is a net positive: first, because existing products get cheaper as they no longer include a Microsoft tax; second, because new products and services emerge that would not have been profitable/possible with the Microsoft tax included. It's not great for Microsoft, its employees, suppliers, and shareholders, but their pain -- which is real and terrible -- is dwarfed by the wider benefit.

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Rich America versus Poor America: stats about the wealth gap

Occupy's "99%" and "1%" slogans made America's widening wealth gap into part of the common discourse. But (as this video demonstrated) it's still hard to wrap your head around how widespread poverty is in America, and how much richer America's rich have become. This listicle, 21 Hard To Believe Facts About 'Wealthy America' And 'Poor America' delivering a series of ringing slaps to make the reality sink in:

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How would you short London?

Here's a finance riddle: how would you short London's property bubble? House prices are up GBP50K in the last six months, our freeholder is making noises about either buying or forcing us out in order to build a giant tower, and they sold off Scotland Yard (!). They say the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and I've been marvelling at the irrationality of London's property market since I moved there in 2003. Just for the sake of argument, if you wanted to put a bet down on a property value crash, how would you make it?

Fighting patent trolls and corruption with the Magnificent Seven business-model


My new Locus column, Collective Action, proposes a theory of corruption: the relatively small profits from being a jerk are concentrated, the much larger effects are diffused, which means that the jerks can afford better lawyers and lobbyists than any one of their victims. Since the victims are spread out and don't know each other, it's hard to fight back together.

Then I propose a solution: using Kickstarter-like mechanisms to fight corruption: a website where victims of everything from patent trolls and copyright trolls, all the way up to pollution and robo-signing foreclosures, can find each other and pledge to fund a group defense, rather than paying off the bandits.

It's the Magnificent Seven business model: one year, the villagers stop paying the robbers, and use the money to pay mercenaries to fight the robbers instead.

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Giving no-strings-attached money to the world's poorest produces remarkably good results

The Economist details outcomes from Give Directly, an organization that analyzes satellite photos to identify the poorest places in the world and then hands over no-strings-attached cash grants to the people who live there. It's a contrast to other programs, where donations are funneled into school construction or funding planned-out businesses. Give Directly has produced remarkably good results: "In randomly selected poor households in 63 villages that have received the windfalls, they say, the number of children going without food for a day has fallen by over a third and livestock holdings have risen by half. A year after the scheme began, incomes have gone up by a quarter and recipients seem less stressed, according to tests of their cortisol levels."

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40-hour work-week as a tool of immiserating economic growth

David Cain's 2010 essay "Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed" -- occasioned by his return to full-time employment -- has a sharp-edged rumination on the modern, 40-hour work-week and what it does to us. In Cain's view, the 40-hour office week leaves us "tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have."

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Explaining America's massive, untenable wealth-gap with video

This 2012 video from Politizane does an excellent job of illustrating the massive, well-documented gap between the wealth-distribution that Americans believe they have, the distribution they would favor (regardless of political affiliation), and what America actually has: a system that rewards CEOs at 380 times the rate of their average employees.

Wealth Inequality in America (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Homlessness and technological literacy: the Tenderloin Technology Lab


Wired profiles Darrell Pugh, a formerly homeless man who teaches people who have no homes or are otherwise in economically precarious position how to use networks and computers, at the Tenderloin Technology Lab in San Francisco. It's an amazing story and draws an important connection between technological literacy and the ability to live a full life in modern society. Pugh's own perspective on this ("Educating myself and passing what I know onto other people so they can try, that’s all part of what I think we need to do. We shouldn’t hold back our knowledge from each other. We should share it so we’re all better.") is fantastic.

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London School of Economics: piracy isn't killing big content; government needs to be skeptical of entertainment industry claims


Copyright and Creation, a policy brief from a collection of respected scholars at the rock-ribbed London School of Economics, argues that the evidence shows that piracy isn't causing any grave harm to the entertainment industry, and that anti-piracy measures like the three-strikes provision in Britain's Digital Economy Act don't work. They call on lawmakers to take an evidence-led approach to Internet and copyright law, and to consider the interests of the public and not just big entertainment companies looking for legal backstops to their profit-maximisation strategies.

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Lessons learned from a flat-rate service-charge, no-tip restaurant

Jay Porter owned a San Diego restaurant called The Linkery where tipping was not allowed; instead, a flat 18 percent service-charge is added to each bill, and that charge is divided among the servers, bus-people, and kitchen-staff. In a six-part series, Porter sets out the case for his experiment and reports on the result, covering the bad gender dynamics, motivation and microeconomics, and a comparison with a tip-friendly restaurant he also owns. It's a compelling tale about economic fairness versus locked-in dysfunctional conventions. He summarized his findings in an easily digested article for Slate.

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HOWTO make $200,000 off of the above-inflation USPS postage hike


The USPS is planning a rare, above-inflation postage stamp price-hike on Jan 26, 2014; and they're also selling "forever-stamps" that can be used at any time. Allison Schrager and Ritchie King show how these two facts in combination offer a significant arbitrage opportunity, and set out a plan to buy 10 million stamps at $0.46 and sell them at $0.48, netting $200,000 in profit, at 4.3 percent.

It's pretty thoroughly thought-through, with a detailed finance and distribution plan. I'd love to see them try it.

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Twitter party game/Prisoners' Dilemma: "I Eat Poo"

Jeremy Bornstein proposes a party game/Prisoners' Dilemma variant called "I Eat Poo," in which the players pass their phones to their left and invite the player there to type (but not send) an embarrassing message into their own Twitter account. Phones are handed back and each player gets to decide whether to allow the message to be posted, or to forfeit $20 to the message-writer; the phones are handed back to the message-writer, and the hand-over may also include a covert $20 payoff. The climax comes when the final accounting is made: if everyone has paid $20, or no one has paid $20, then nothing happens (the messages aren't posted). Otherwise, the paid-up don't get posted, the unpaid do, and the pot is split among the message-writers.

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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy

Tim Harford's latest book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, is a great macroeconomic companion to his 2005 debut, The Undercover Economist (UK edition), an excellent and accessible book on microeconomics. Structured as a dialog between an economist (Harford) and a notional punter who has been put in charge of getting an imaginary economy going after a deep, long recession (ahem), Strikes Back is full of Harford's witty, clear and memorable explanations of complex and vital subjects.

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RIP, Ronald Coase

Ronald Coase, Economics Nobel Laureate and author of the 1937 classic Nature of the Firm, has died at 102. Coase's arguments about the problems of transaction costs and the opportunities that arise from lowering them are at the heart of the Internet's impact and have never been more relevant.

Bullshit jobs: why we're not all working 4h days


David Graeber, who wrote last year's incredible Debt: The First 5,000 Years, has an extraordinary essay up called "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs," which explores the phenomenon of people in productive industries (nursing, teaching, etc) being relentlessly ground down on wages, job stability and working conditions; while all the big money aggregates to the finance industry and a layer of "bullshit jobs" like corporate attorneys, administrators, etc -- who do jobs that produce no tangible benefit.

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What FRPGs can teach us about gold

"Look at games like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Dungeons and Dragons, or the original Final Fantasy. In those games, gold is the money, and you often get gold not by doing an honest day's work, but by running around and beating people up and taking their gold. In other words, the entire world of modern fantasy role-playing is a subtle joke on gold's unsuitability as a medium of exchange." -Noah Smith (via Making Light)

What happens when actual prisoners play The Prisoner's Dilemma?


Photo: businessinsider.com

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a basic part of game theory. Two prisoners are given the choice between informing on the other, or staying silent. They can't communicate with each other. The choices they make determine how many years in prison they both get.

This analogy/brain game is often used to demonstrate the ways that different people can work with or against each other in economic and social situations. Now, for the first time, scientists have done a study based on The Prisoner's Dilemma that used real prisoners. Instead of time off their sentences, they were given the choice of competing or cooperating to earn goodies like coffee and cigarettes.

And here's the surprise: Compared to college students, the prisoners actually cooperated with each other much more often.