When Robots Replace Workers

An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: “The “Second Economy” (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. … This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. … Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution.”

This follows the recent discussion of “Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates” citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation’s initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the “basic income” of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of “Silent Running.” So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I’d agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological “singularity” of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creative Work

by

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.”

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendencies and why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.

Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.

Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)

Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work and pushing us toward loneliness rather than toward the shared belonging that true art fosters:

There is the bad work of pride. There is also the bad work of despair — done poorly out of the failure of hope or vision.

Despair is the too-little of responsibility, as pride is the too-much.

The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life.

For despair there is no forgiveness, and for pride none. Who in loneliness can forgive?

Good work finds the way between pride and despair.

It graces with health. It heals with grace.

It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.

By it, we lose loneliness:

we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us;

we enter the little circle of each other’s arms,

and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance,

and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.

Illustration by Emily Hughes from ‘Wild,’ one of the best children’s books of the year. Click image for more.

Echoing Thoreau’s ode to the woods and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’s assertion that cultivating a capacity for “fertile solitude” is essential for creative work, Berry extols the ennobling effects of solitude, the kind gained only by surrendering to nature’s gentle gift for quieting the mind:

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

The return from such humanizing solitude, Berry cautions, can be disorienting:

From the order of nature we return to the order — and the disorder — of humanity.

From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it.

One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human.

And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.

In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.

Indeed, so deep is our pathology of human striving that even Thoreau, a century and a half ago, memorably despaired: “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But the value of such recalibration of our connectedness in solitude, Berry suggests, is that it reminds us of the artist’s task, which is to connect us to one another. He returns to the subject of despair and pride, which serve to separate and thus betray the task of art:

The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.

[…]

Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?

[…]

But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.

To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.

It is despair that sees the work failing in one’s own failure.

This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.

But Berry’s most urgent point has to do with the immense value of “thoroughly conscious ignorance” and of keeping alive the unanswerable questions that make us human:

There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.

The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.

In ignorance is hope.

Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance the teachers will come to.

They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.

All of the essays in What Are People For? are imbued with precisely this kind of light-giving force. Complement it with Berry on what the poetic form teaches us about the secret of marriage, then revisit Sara Maitland on the art of solitude, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.

 

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/17/wendell-berry-pride-despair-solitude/

New TISA leak: secret trade deal threatens privacy rights

By Santiago Carrion On December 19, 2014

Post image for New TISA leak: secret trade deal threatens privacy rights

A new leak exposes US attempts to boost mega-corporations by undermining privacy rights and internet freedoms through the top-secret TISA trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Associated Whistleblowing Press published a new leak revealing US attempts to undermine privacy rights, net neutrality and internet freedoms through top-secret negotiations over the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Even a quick glance at the leaked document is already extremely revealing. At the top of its front page, in capital letters, the word CONFIDENTIAL is highlighted — and further down the full extent of the treaty’s secret nature is revealed: “Declassify on five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement.”

A full reading and understanding of the text, however, not only explains these harsh terms, but makes them necessary. Because what government would tell its citizens, explicitly, that they are opening the door for mega-corporations to take control of their public services? What company would clearly inform its customers that their private data will be handed over to foreign entities without any restrictions? In the case of TISA, when the players involved include the US, the EU and more than twenty other countries — together making up almost 70% of the world services market — the answers are painfully obvious.

As Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (a global federation of unions that represents over 200 million workers, and one of the most active voices against TISA) puts it: “the leaked documents confirm our worst fears: that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth.” These interests, of course, are directly opposed to those of most of the world population.

Where did TISA come from?

To understand the nature of the treaty, we have to go back to 2001, when the Doha rounds of the World Trade Organization intended to tear down all barriers and limitations to global commerce. After the failure of these negotiations and other similar treaties — such as ALCA — the global powers began the process of signing bilateral and multilateral treaties to achieve their goals. The objective is always the same: to open up all possible services to international competition on a minimally regulated market.

The global financial crisis of 2008, however, forced a drastic change of plans, and there were even a couple of important voices that timidly spoke out against the deregulatory trend they believed had sparked the crisis. At this point, the big fish behind this trend of market liberalization — the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland — conceded, if only for a while.

But now that the smoke has cleared these same countries and the powerful business lobbies behind them — who actually call themselves ‘Really Good Friends of Services’ and who claim that there is no connection between market deregulation and the global financial crisis — are planning to bypass public concerns through secrecy and completely liberalize up to 70% of all services worldwide, even those related to our personal privacy.

“The end of privacy as we know it”

All of this is why, for now, the little information we have about TISA has come to us through a set of carefully leaked documents. The first time the public caught a glimpse of what was happening between negotiators in Geneva was thanks toWikileaks, who published a chapter on finance last June, revealing that these global powers were well on their way to achieve their plans for further deregulation by the time public concern had diminished.

The new documents — technically referred to as the United States’ Proposal of New Provisions Applicable to All Services and the Annex of Professional Services — shed a whole new light on the scope of the treaty: legal services, private education, veterinary care, taxation services and even bookkeeping are all on the table, as well as technical services such as internet providers, electronic transactions, digital signatures and Big Data flow.

This last point, relating to the movement of information, is particularly serious. Article X.4 states that “no party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in conduct of the service supplier’s business.” According to lawyerJosep Jover, an expert in intellectual property, this spells “the end of privacy as we know it,” as “the consumer becomes fuel for the services provider.”

On this issue, Rosa Pavanelli is once again crystal clear: “Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individual rights … Negotiating provisions that potentially circumvent privacy laws in the interests of corporate profits is a scandal. The TISA negotiators have now lost the confidence of the public and can only regain it with the immediate release of all documents.”

Now that we know that this is probably just wishful thinking, we can only hope that the leaks keep on coming — and the public resistance to this highly secretive trade deal keeps on growing.

Santiago Carrion is co-founder, with Pedro Noel, of the Associated Whistleblowing Press (AWP). Follow AWP on Twitter @wbpress.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/tisa-leak-privacy-internet-freedom/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

WINTER SOLSTICE

slide_271316_1911483_free

 

In 2014, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will begin on Dec. 21 at 6:03 p.m. EST. To calculate the turning point in your time zone, click here.

Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solsticeuntil the summer solstice in 2015.

The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.

Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in northern Europe. Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of thewinter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.

One of the most famous celebrations of the winter solstice in the world today takes place in the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, England. Thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

Pagan author T. Thorn Coyle wrote in a 2012 HuffPost article that for many contemporary celebrants, solstices “are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.”

In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.

In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.

After announcing “normalization” with Cuba, Obama slaps sanctions on Venezuela

749a9c5850e0e5c375dd207a076b3a8a152b63e1

By Bill Van Auken
20 December 2014

President Barack Obama, Thursday, signed into law legislation imposing a new set of sanctions against Venezuela. The action, taken just one day after he took what have been widely described as “historic” steps to “normalize” relations with Cuba, shed considerable light on the real aims being pursued in relation to the Caribbean island nation.

The “human rights” sanctions were imposed on the pretext of punishing individual Venezuelan officials for the handling of violent anti-government protests launched last February with the aim of deposing President Nicolas Maduro. The violence claimed the lives of 40 people, including numerous members of the security forces, as well as supporters of the government and others killed in confrontations at barricades erected by Maduro’s US-backed rightist opponents.

The “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act” abrogates or denies visas for a number of top Venezuelans and orders the freezing of any assets they may have in the US.

In another measure that serves to undermine the Venezuelan government, the US-based Fitch rating agency downgraded Venezuela’s credit rating from “B” to “CCC”, which suggests a likelihood of failure to meet payments.

Maduro, who only the previous day had praised Obama for his “brave and necessary gesture” toward Cuba, on Thursday denounced the new sanctions as “insolent measures taken by the imperial elite of the United States.” At the same time, he noted, “On the one hand, it recognizes the failure of the policies of aggression and blockade against our sister Cuba (…), and, on the other hand, it launches a new escalation of attacks” against Venezuela.

Underlying this seeming contradiction is a definite logic, however. The move toward rapprochement with Cuba and the sanctions against Venezuela are different tactics that are directed toward the same aim: bringing to power pliant regimes prepared to more fully accept US semi-colonial domination.

Washington is banking on the driving down of oil prices destabilizing Venezuela and creating better conditions for orchestrating a right-wing campaign to depose the Maduro government. At the same time, it sees economic and political destabilization of Venezuela, which has provided a lifeline to Cuba in the form of discounted oil shipments as well as tens of billions of dollars in loans, investments and grants, as a means of weakening Cuba and facilitating a restoration of the type of regime that characterized the country before the 1959 revolution.

For all of Obama’s rhetoric about “democracy,” “human rights” and “empowering the Cuban people,” these are the real aims and interests underlying the shift in Washington’s policy toward Havana.

And, while much has been written about Obama’s “bold move,” the reality is that the driving force behind a change in Cuba policy has been ruling corporate and financial sectors, which have seen a market that they believe should be theirs, dominated by China, Spain and other countries.

Fortune magazine’s response to Wednesday’s announcement was a story headlined, “Corporate lobbyists score victory in loosening of Cuban trade embargo.”

The story noted that truck and tractor manufacturer Caterpillar, the personal care product maker Colgate-Palmolive and the insurance giant Chubb “all spent tens of thousands of dollars to lobby government officials this year about the Cuban embargo, according to regulatory documents.”

“PepsiCo wants in. So does Caterpillar and Marriott International,” the New York Times exclaimed. “Within hours of President Obama’s historic move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, companies in the United States were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market that they have not been in for the better part of 50 years—if ever.”

The Financial Times reported, “Cargill, the private US commodities trader, was among the first to welcome the announced easing of US trade restrictions on Cuba.” It noted that the company, “although a long-time supporter of the Republican Party […] has long urged ending the more than 50-year trade embargo.”

While US business interests currently are exporting approximately $500 million worth of goods to Cuba annually, consisting mostly of agricultural products, this flow is hobbled by financial restrictions requiring pre-payment through a third-party bank, typically in Europe. Other competitors, including Brazil, have been able to gain a greater share of the market by offering credit. Among the executive measures that Obama has announced will be an easing of these financial barriers.

Propelled by these big business interests, Obama’s changes in Cuban policy will apparently be rolled out rapidly, with regulatory changes on trade and travel made “as soon as new regulations can be published in the Federal Register ,” according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the process of restoring diplomatic relations is expected to begin next month with a visit to Havana by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson. The official told the newspaper that the reestablishment of formal ties could be accomplished simply through an exchange of letters, and that Washington would then “change the sign” on its large US Interests Section in Havana, turning it into an embassy.

Asked about how quickly the new measures expanding trade, travel and US banking operations, as well the quadrupling of the amount of money that can be sent to individuals on the island, will be implemented, Jacobson told thePost, “I am quite certain we’re talking about days or weeks. Certainly not months.”

Washington’s strategy is for the expansion of US trade and investment to intersect with the series of counter-reforms implemented over the past five years by the government of President Raul Castro, which have slashed government jobs and social spending while spurring private enterprise and offering more favorable conditions for foreign capital to exploit cheap Cuban labor. The ultimate aim is the fostering of a new bourgeois layer as the social basis of a semi-colonial Cuban regime.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/20/cuba-d20.html