Do You Have A Living Doppelgänger?

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Folk wisdom has it that everyone has a doppelganger; somewhere out there there’s a perfect duplicate of you, with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always meant to have removed. Now BBC reports that last year Teghan Lucas set out to test the hypothesis that everyone has a living double. Armed with a public collection of photographs of U.S. military personnel and the help of colleagues from the University of Adelaide, Lucas painstakingly analyzed the faces of nearly four thousand individuals, measuring the distances between key features such as the eyes and ears. Next she calculated the probability that two peoples’ faces would match. What she found was good news for the criminal justice system, but likely to disappoint anyone pining for their long-lost double: the chances of sharing just eight dimensions with someone else are less than one in a trillion. Even with 7.4 billion people on the planet, that’s only a one in 135 chance that there’s a single pair of doppelgangers.

Lucas says this study has provided much-needed evidence that facial anthropometric measurements are as accurate as fingerprints and DNA when it comes to identifying a criminal. “The use of video surveillance systems for security purposes is increasing and as a result, there are more and more instances of criminals leaving their ‘faces’ at a scene of a crime,” says Ms Lucas. “At the same time, criminals are getting smarter and are avoiding leaving DNA or fingerprint traces at a crime scene.” But that’s not the whole story. The study relied on exact measurements; if your doppelganger’s ears are 59mm but yours are 60mm, your likeness wouldn’t count. “It depends whether we mean ‘lookalike to a human’ or ‘lookalike to facial recognition software,'” says David Aldous. If fine details aren’t important, suddenly the possibility of having a lookalike looks a lot more realistic. It depends on the way faces are stored in the brain: more like a map than an image. To ensure that friends and acquaintances can be recognized in any context, the brain employs an area known as the fusiform gyrus to tie all the pieces together.

This holistic ‘sum of the parts’ perception is thought to make recognizing friends a lot more accurate than it would be if their features were assessed in isolation. Using this type of analysis, and judging by the number of celebrity look-alikes out there, unless you have particularly rare features, you may have literally thousands of doppelgangers. “I think most people have somebody who is a facial lookalike unless they have a truly exceptional and unusual face,” says Francois Brunelle has photographed more than 200 pairs of doppelgangers for his I’m Not a Look-Alike project. “I think in the digital age which we are entering, at some point we will know because there will be pictures of almost everyone online.

 

https://science.slashdot.org/story/16/07/15/2039233/do-you-have-a-living-doppelgnger

THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

MEDIA CONTACT

10 Takeaways About the Gig Economy That Has Pushed Europe to Say No to These Predatory Capitalists

ECONOMY
Europe knows what undermines economic stability, says author Steven Hill.

Photo Credit: rmnoa357 / Shutterstock.com

The gig economy, exemplified by ride-service companies like Uber, housing rental companies like Airbnb and freelance brokers like Upwork, is not a harbinger of an empowering new tech-driven economy. These are predatory corporations using age-old practices to exploit workers, dodge government oversight and evade taxes.

Those are the takeaways from the new book Raw Deal: How The Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, by Steven Hill, a fellow at New America Foundation. Hill, who splits his time between California and Europe, intriguingly notes that unlike the states, the continent has not embraced the gig economy mainstays in its midst.

AlterNet talked with Hill about how Europe—particularly Germany, where he has lived for most of 2016—has not bought into the sector’s claims that it is somehow futuristic, different and above government regulation and public accountability.

“I first started looking at this myself because I live in San Francisco and I’ve been watching the impact of technology on jobs, and specific companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Upwork, which I think in some ways is the most alarming of these companies,” he said, referring to a firm that farms out freelance work to the lowest global bidders. “Having studied that here, and these companies are now operating in other countries as well, I wanted to see how other countries are reacting to the pressures that they’re getting from these companies.”

What follows are 10 of Hill’s observations about the burgeoning gig economy.

1. Not following the laws, anywhere. “The first thing for Americans to realize is that a lot of these companies aren’t following the laws, aren’t paying taxes. Uber comes in and just doesn’t follow local laws for taxis. Not only in terms of background checks, insurance laws, qualifications for drivers, but even in terms of paying livery taxes. Airbnb, same thing. Upwork and TaskRabbit, these companies aren’t following minimum wage laws.”

2. Europeans are not okay with that. “Americans sort of accept some of this. But the first thing you notice when you go to France or Germany, they say, ‘No, this is a taxi service. I don’t care that you are using technology to connect a driver to a passenger.’ In fact, Uber changed its name to Uber Technologies just so they could say they were a technology company, not a taxi company. Across Europe, people say, So what? We don’t care that you’re a technology company. It is the same service you offer, therefore we expect you to follow the same laws that we have for taxis. We expect you to follow the same laws that we have for hotels or any of these other services and platforms.

“So there is this interesting and I would say refreshing perspective: Of course, you’re going to follow the laws. You don’t get out of following laws just because you think you are something new and different.”

3. Anything but a new business model. “Airbnb, for example, will tell you, ‘Look, we want to pay taxes—the hotel and occupancy tax that hotels pay—and we want to follow local laws, but we’re in 34,000 cities and we just haven’t had time to research all of these cities and their laws, and we’re going to get to it.’

The thing that’s rather remarkable is they are asserting this new corporate right that you can set up operations first and figure out the local laws and taxes later on. If Boeing, for example, were to set up an airplane assembly plant here, and said we’ll figure out the taxes and local laws later on, we’d live in a very different world. Corporations don’t get to set up where they want and figure out the laws later on. But that’s what these companies are insisting on being able to do.”

4. Europeans are trying to reel this in. “In Berlin, where I was living for the last five months, they passed a law two years ago saying, ‘There’s going to be the new rules we are going to insist on [for Airbnb rentals]. We are not going to have it take effect for two years so everyone can have a chance to get ready.’

Well, the law just went into effect on May 1, and it basically says that you cannot own multiple properties, you can’t rent out your whole house—you can only rent out a spare room in your house or apartment; they put a percentage on it, and you have to register with the city. They are not looking to shut it down completely. Most people realize that the core idea of Airbnb, that you can allow people to rent out a spare room and make some extra money, is okay. But the problem is a lot of it has been completely taken over by professional real estate operatives, some of whom have dozens of properties. So cities like Berlin and Copenhagen are trying to return it to that earlier core business, where you can still have someone rent out a spare room, but you’re not going to create an opportunity for professionals to circumvent local laws or use Airbnb as a massive loophole.”

5. Pushback in U.S. lags far behind. “San Francisco just passed a law for tougher Airbnb rules. They already have a law that folks have to register, which has been in effect for almost a year and a half. This new law is going to put the burden on Airbnb and says you can’t list folks who haven’t registered. If you do list folks who have not registered, you are going to be fined… Other cities are looking at it.

“The problem, in terms of Airbnb, is that many of these laws have turned out to be unenforceable. Unless you have the data from Airbnb, it’s hard to know how many nights they’re renting out, how much they’re charging, these sorts of things. Airbnb is the only one that has that data, and has refused to give it up, despite requests. So this is a big problem in terms of enforcing any of these laws.”

6. Europe is increasing enforcement. “In Berlin, in contrast, they’re ramping up enforcement. They are actually going to have people go door to door. They are encouraging neighbors to start reporting on neighbors who are illegally operating as Airbnb hotels. That’s interesting, as it taps into a whole history of Germany reporting on neighbors, going back to the Stasi [secret police] and everything else. It’s just a lot of different approaches that are happening. We’ll see if any of them are effective.”

7. Europeans are more concerned. “The public in Europe, in general, expect corporations to be better citizens. There is more of social dimension to the economy there. So when companies like Uber come in and say, Hey, we’re going to give you a new service, people take a second look.

First of all, in Europe, taxi service is pretty good, whereas here in the U.S. taxi service is not. There aren’t enough taxis on the road because of medallions and those sorts of things. But in Europe, there is not as big a need. There’s good public transit. That makes Europeans react by saying, If you want to operate here, that’s fine, but you have to follow the law. You can’t do it on the backs of your drivers, cutting their pay, and those sorts of things.”

8. The gig economy hasn’t exploded there. “It hasn’t hit there like it has here, partly because they insist that you follow the law. So Uber and Lyft and TaskRabbit and these other companies say it is a bigger uphill battle for them. They haven’t tried to push into there as much as in India or China. Europeans are aware of the gig economy. Some call it the digital economy. Some just call it the Internet economy. They’re aware that some of the ways that these companies operate really strike at the core of their social model.

“When you talk to business people in Germany and say, This is what these companies are; this is how they operate; they want a labor force they can turn on and off like a garden hose, they understand what that means for the economy. They have good labor relations and it’s part of their economic successes… So that is a barrier to entry for these kinds of companies.”

9. But European business people are worried. “The companies that are most concerning to them are a company like Upwork. It is based in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, and has 250 employees who use technology to oversee 10 million freelancers from around the world. If you go on that platform, you see workers from Germany saying, I want 60 euros an hour for this job. And you can see a worker from Thailand or India saying, I’ll take two euros an hour. Some of those workers in Thailand or India are very skilled, have access to technology and can do the job.

“So, if you’re a business person in Germany, you feel torn because you can get someone for a lot less, but understand it undermines something crucial about the German economy, and the relationship between employer and employee, and the basis for their economic success. That’s the dilemma.”

10. American workers are less protected. “A lot of Americans who are working in these jobs just need the work. They know the jobs are not very good. If you look at Uber’s own numbers, it shows that 50 percent of their drivers last a year on their platform and then move on. So it’s a temporary job. It’s something they do because they can’t find anything better.”

The biggest takeaway 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from listening to Hill is that the gig economy flourishes when the public faces a mix of economic anxieties and an absense of government oversight. On both those counts, the U.S. sits between Europe, which has resisted these exploitive firms, and Asia, where they are able to rapidly expand. Indeed, if Americans didn’t have as many economic anxieties at home, there would be less of a need to work longer hours and wrest more income from one’s assets.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

ALTERNET

Former US Drone Techs Condemn Inhumanity of Secretive Kill Program

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Whistleblowers Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling criticized the bombing campaign for what they say was a lack of recognition for human life

“Humanity has been taken out of the decision,” one of the whistleblowers said. (Photo: Annette Dubois/flickr/cc)

In Brussels this week, two former U.S. drone technicians are speaking out against the aerial bombing program as the European Parliament gears up for a hearing on unmanned warfare and the U.S. prepares to confront its own legacy on drone strikes.

At an event with campaigners on Thursday, Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling, who worked on the military’s drone technology systems, criticized the bombing program for what they say was a lack of recognition for human life.

Westmoreland first spoke out against the program in 2015 along with three other Air Force pilots, who published a letter accusing the Obama administration of “lying publicly” about the program and warning that “the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS.”

On Thursday, he said he was compelled to come forward after being given an award for helping build a station in Kandahar, Afghanistan that contributed to 2,400 missions and 2,000 “enemy kills.”

That made him feel “horrible,” he told the Guardian.

“The connection needs to be made that if strategic and military goals are to be fulfilled, civilian lives must be respected,” he said.

The Guardian notes that Britain is currently the only European country to use drones, but that the European Parliament believes that may change as more nations come under increasing pressure to support U.S. warfare.

 

The two whistleblowers also attended a parliamentary hearing on Thursday to discuss the impacts of drone warfare on civilian communities. Westmoreland said he noticed a “total disconnect” among many of the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) during the hearing, including during videotaped testimony from the brother of a cleric killed during a strike who talked about the impact it had on his family. “One of them was playing on their cellphone while this was going on,” Westmoreland said.

Thursday’s hearing also took place just a day before President Barack Obama is expected to announce the number of civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes in nontraditional battlegrounds like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya since 2009, leaving out figures for active war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

A report released Thursday by the international human rights group Reprieve exposes the administration’s misleading—and rare—public statements on civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Ling said the hearing felt like a first step toward “exploring issues of what does participation in the drone war or extrajudicial killing actually look like.”

She added that she had been shocked by “how little the public knew” about the program. “As citizens we need to have some conversation about the things that are in the dark…. The people who are out of the picture are the people who are on the ground within the drone program, and the victims,” she said.

“Humanity has been taken out of the decision: there has been a lot of talk about the plane itself and how cool the technology is,” she added, “but not a lot of conversation about the people who are affected.”

Bernie Sanders: Democrats Need to Wake Up

CreditAdam McCauley

Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children.

And it’s not just the British who are suffering. That increasingly globalized economy, established and maintained by the world’s economic elite, is failing people everywhere. Incredibly, the wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population — around 3.6 billion people. The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99 percent. The very, very rich enjoy unimaginable luxury while billions of people endure abject poverty, unemployment, and inadequate health care, education, housing and drinking water.

Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could.

During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize.

In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries.

Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol.

Meanwhile, in our country the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Fifty-eight percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. Wall Street and billionaires, through their “super PACs,” are able to buy elections.

On my campaign, I’ve talked to workers unable to make it on $8 or $9 an hour; retirees struggling to purchase the medicine they need on $9,000 a year of Social Security; young people unable to afford college. I also visited the American citizens of Puerto Rico, where some 58 percent of the children live in poverty and only a little more than 40 percent of the adult population has a job or is seeking one.

Let’s be clear. The global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world. This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change.

But we do not need change based on the demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment that punctuated so much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric — and is central to Donald J. Trump’s message.

We need a president who will vigorously support international cooperation that brings the people of the world closer together, reduces hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war. We also need a president who respects the democratic rights of the people, and who will fight for an economy that protects the interests of working people, not just Wall Street, the drug companies and other powerful special interests.

We need to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade. Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour. We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must help poor countries develop sustainable economic models.

We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments.

We need to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating global climate change and by transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels.

We need international efforts to cut military spending around the globe and address the causes of war: poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance.

The notion that Donald Trump could benefit from the same forces that gave the Leave proponents a majority in Britain should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in the United States. Millions of American voters, like the Leave supporters, are understandably angry and frustrated by the economic forces that are destroying the middle class.

In this pivotal moment, the Democratic Party and a new Democratic president need to make clear that we stand with those who are struggling and who have been left behind. We must create national and global economies that work for all, not just a handful of billionaires.

Here’s Why Everyone Should Get a Basic Income

BOOKS
A universal basic income would reinvigorate our nation’s founding principles while providing new scaffolding for the American Dream.

Photo Credit: SujaImages / Shutterstock.com

The following is an excerpt from the new book Raising the Floor by Andy Stern with Lee Kravitz (Public Affairs, 2016): 

At first blush it seems almost un-American—a universal basic income (UBI) that grants an income to every US citizen without any obligation to work or perform a socially mandated task. In a country that celebrates hard work as the path to fulfillment and riches, the idea of getting money for nothing—even if it’s just enough to keep you and your family off the debt collector’s call list and above the poverty line—is heresy. And yet, in some ways, UBI is as idealistic, optimistic, and American as the Declaration of Independence and its foundational principle that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even with our current economic problems, we live in a land of abundant wealth and resources. And UBI is rooted in the belief that every human being should have at least the basic means to choose the life they want for themselves and their families. At a time when the tried-and-true twentieth-century solutions are failing us, UBI has the potential to give our troubled economy a twenty-first-century shot in the arm by transforming the technological disruption that’s been causing us so much anxiety into a force for self-fulfillment and the common good.

If these sentiments sound lofty and gilded, as I’m sure they do, my hope is that the conversations here will inspire you to see UBI as a policy that can raise the floor and reinvigorate our nation’s founding principles while providing new scaffolding for the American Dream.

Why Now, America

The idea of a basic income has been around for hundreds of years. And for the most part, it has remained just that: an idea. So why do I think it’s time to have a very serious conversation in this country about making a universal basic income a reality in twenty-first century America? Because as we move from an industrial economy to one based on digitization, our economic system is irreparably breaking down.

I’m emboldened in that statement from a conversation I had with Albert Wenger, the managing partner of Union Square Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm best known for its early investments in Zynga, Tumblr, Twitter, and Etsy. Wenger has founded or co-founded tech companies in the areas of data analysis, investment, and management consulting. He has degrees in computer science and economics from Harvard, and a PhD in information technology from MIT. He spends a lot of his time thinking about how technology will change the workplace, and here’s how he explained the fundamental loop of the industrial economy to me—and why it is breaking down: “In the industrial economy most people have a job and sell their time for a wage, then they use that money to buy products and services that are produced, for the most part, by other people who are selling their time. That fundamental loop is breaking down because we can make more and more things without people. It’s not a matter of ‘This will happen.’ It’s already happening, as we can see everywhere in the data”—and as I’ve noted several times earlier in this book.

Technology will keep making us more productive and efficient, but with fewer people. It’s impossible to predict exact numbers and there is no timetable for the transition from the industrial economy to the one that’s taking shape. “But one thing’s for sure,” investment banker Steven Berkenfeld says. “The transition will be a mess.” As Berkenfeld points out, the poor, the marginalized, and lower- and middle-income families will bear most of the transitional pain. The rich, less so. This becomes evident when I ask Berkenfeld to imagine what would happen if his own son, who is twenty-two, was suddenly to lose his job as a management consultant, or if that job became part-time or was turned into piecework.

“Well, I would have to cover his medical insurance,” Berkenfeld says. “And I would need to take into account that he won’t be making any money when we go on our family vacation, since he’s only getting paid for the days he works. Right now, I guarantee the $2,000-a-month lease on his apartment. If he lost his job, he’d probably have to move back home with us. Everything would change. He’d be much more dependent on us.”

Of course, everything would not change for the Berkenfeld family. Berkenfeld and his wife might be inconvenienced for a while, but their son would come out fine in the end, as would my own son, Matt, if he lost his job. Young people like them have a safety net with deep pockets—their parents. And they are born with a particular type of guaranteed basic income—the parental basic income, what I call PBI.

Also, parents with financial means give these kids a foot up in the job market. “If you’re rich and connected, your kid will be able to work for you or one of your friends or use one of the connections you have,” Berkenfeld says. “It’s children from middle-income and lower-income families who won’t have similar options.”

I am very concerned about the social safety net for workers. Historically, benefits came with a full-time job and membership in a union. It was the union that negotiated healthcare, workers’ comp, sick leave, and other benefits on behalf of its members, and those benefits helped workers and their families lead a more secure middle-class life. But now, with unions and benefits both falling away, American workers are more vulnerable if they get sick or hurt on the job. “We need a new social contract,” says Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. “And we need a new mechanism for people to update the social contract.”

When I refer to a jobless future, I’m by no means suggesting that there won’t be any jobs. However, I do think that we are heading toward a world with fewer overall jobs—perhaps tens of millions of them. In that world, the jobs that are left will either be extremely well paying and secure (at the top/winner take all), or contingent, part-time, and driven largely by people’s own motivation, creativity, and the ability to make a job out of “nothing.”

The current social contract puts this second category of worker at a disadvantage.

You have to be employed to benefit from policies like raising the earned income tax credit or the minimum wage. If you’re unemployed, a higher EITC won’t put any extra money in your pocket. If you’re working part-time, a higher minimum wage will add to your total income for the hours you work, but you’re vulnerable to getting your hours cut. When you work hourly for pennies as an Amazon Mechanical Turk, no one will be paying you for sick leave. Nor will anyone be giving you sick leave, unemployment insurance, or a pension if you’ve been forced to become self-employed or an entrepreneur because you’ve lost your full-time job, or even if you’ve freely and happily chosen that path.

Ours is a consumer-driven economy: How can it even function, much less thrive if so many fewer people have money to spend? Technological unemployment threatens our economy, and also our American way of life. An underclass of youth without hope and jobs is capable of becoming violent and spawning terrorists. For all these reasons, technological unemployment is a national security issue.

Steven Berkenfeld joins me in thinking that we need to take a lesson from the way the military deals with contingencies: “If this were the military, the generals would have different scenarios for what they’d do if 5 percent, 10 percent, or 40 percent of the workforce faced a jobless future.” The military prepares for every possibility. Let’s follow their example and bring together a group of economists, policy-makers, futurists, politicians, business leaders, labor organizers, and everyday Americans to hash out a realistic plan for UBI, even if we never execute the plan.

After years of focusing on creating more middle-class jobs and raising wages, I find myself drawn to a policy that gives every American over the age of eighteen a basic income without any work requirement. My support for UBI is born from a belief that we must attack poverty at its core—a lack of income—rather than treating its symptoms. Also, with major technological advances eliminating more middle-class jobs, new systems of universal support are required. Lacking good jobs and satisfying work, the next generation will desire to build a life outside of poverty and low-wage work, and we should endeavor to give them that opportunity.

Let’s begin with UBI’s historically biggest selling point.

UBI Gives Workers More Freedom and Choices

I ask Albert Wenger, the venture capitalist, if he’s afraid that his colleagues on Wall Street will label him a socialist because he supports a universal basic income.

“Not in the least,” he laughs. “If anything, UBI makes markets work better.”

I ask him how.

“For one thing, it gives all the participants in the market real options. Right now, too many people in the labor market don’t have options. As a result, we need crutches like the minimum wage and unemployment insurance, and we end up regulating the market in a way that discourages activity.” He is on the same page here with labor organizer Saket Soni who believes that UBI “would free people, presumably, to make decisions, rather than force them into deeper competition to hang onto jobs.”

UBI would also increase workers’ bargaining power. The ability to say, “Pay me a lot more than that, if not I’ll stay home” gives workers tremendous leverage in the face of abusive employers, bad workplace conditions, and inadequate wages. That increased leverage should have a positive impact on the wages of people who are unskilled and semi-skilled since they will face less competition from workers forced by financial necessity to seek jobs they don’t want.

UBI is a game-changer for labor. As basic income advocate Timothy Roscoe Carter points out: “In any negotiation, a person who can walk away from a deal can always exploit a person who cannot. Capitalists can always walk away from labor, because they can just live off of the capital they would otherwise invest. It will never be fair until labor can just walk away. A basic income is the ultimate permanent strike fund.”

And UBI provides options by enabling workers to move their families to a place where there are better jobs, giving poor and middle-class Americans more of the same kind of choices available to those with higher incomes. Economic handcuffs and fear of poverty limit Americans’ choice of employer, and their ability to leave crappy jobs, start a new career, work fewer hours, take time with their family, get healthy, start a business, go back to school, or search for a new line of work. That choice, that freedom, exists today, but only for the extremely wealthy and their families.

As Wenger says, “UBI will enable people to do a lot of things financially that are impossible right now.” He gives the example of a young person who is barely getting by in New York. During the past three years, the city of Detroit has been selling houses in some of its more run-down areas for $500 if the buyer is willing to rehab the house and help revitalize the neighborhood. It’s a fabulous opportunity for resourceful and adventurous young people, and for couples who don’t otherwise have the means to buy a house and start a family. But that young person in New York can’t take advantage of this amazing offer. Why? Because he doesn’t have the money to get to Detroit. And, once he gets there, he won’t have a job to pay for his food and other basic expenses. “We have these weird cycles where people get trapped in places that are too expensive for them,” Wenger says. “A universal basic income will help change that. It will let people move to places they can afford, where they can live a better life.”

In addition to giving people more freedom and choices, UBI will enable them to become more financially independent, making it less likely for people to get manipulated by someone else who controls their finances. People in abusive relationships will be able to escape them more easily. And women, now less financially dependent on their husband’s income, will be freer to pursue their own financial goals.

Like Wenger, Carl Camden, the CEO of Kelly Services, sees UBI as unleashing a flow of new economic activity. “When a highly compensated guy like me generates another million dollars of income, most of that money will go to savings,” he says. “But if you give that million dollars to people who make relatively little or nothing at all, almost all of the money will be spent. It reenters the system immediately, with velocity, which is what you want in a government program.”

Economists also point to the “multiplier effect.” Every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers adds about $1.21 to the national economy. Every extra dollar going into the pockets of a high-income American, by contrast, only adds about 39 cents to the GDP. That’s because the richer person can fulfill more of their more important needs and wants with the rest of their money than the poorer person can. By transferring money from high earners to low and middle earners, where the effects of spending are amplified, UBI will have a major ripple effect on the entire economy.

UBI will help the economy in a second way: it might seem counter intuitive, but a UBI applied in a “fewer jobs future” would enable a broader range of people to take bigger career risks, and to put their energies into activities that drive new types of “work,” new sources for income, and new inventions. In an article in Quartz magazine titled “Entrepreneurs don’t have a special gene for risk—they come from families with money,” business journalist Aimee Groth summarizes new research analyzing the shared traits of entrepreneurs. She notes, “the most common shared trait among entrepreneurs is access to financial capital—family money, an inheritance, or a pedigree and connections that allow for access to financial stability. While it seems that entrepreneurs tend to have an admirable penchant for risk, it’s usually that access to money, which allows them to take risks. And this is a key advantage: When basic needs are met, it’s easier to be creative; when you know you have a safety net, you are more willing to take risks.”

Andy Stern is a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Richard Paul Richman Center for Business, Law, and Public Policy. He was formerly president of the 2.2 million–member SEIU, the union of hospital; health-care; nursing-home; food-service; home-care workers; janitors; and public employees.

http://www.alternet.org/books/heres-why-everyone-should-get-basic-income?akid=14353.265072.tnaVzG&rd=1&src=newsletter1058409&t=14

Corporate Globalization Has Been a Wrecking Ball to the American Dream

LOCAL PEACE ECONOMY
If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

This piece originally appeared atLocal Futures.

Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream—though a constantly moving target—is globalization’s ultimate endpoint.

But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

As it turns out, children in the US are far from “confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, and future-oriented.” One indication of this is that more than 8.3 million American children and adolescents require psychiatric drugs; over 2 million are on anti-depressants, and another 2 million are on anti-anxiety drugs. The age groups for which these drugs are prescribed is shockingly young: nearly half a million children 0-3 years old are taking drugs to combat anxiety.[1]

Most people in the “less developed” world will find it hard to imagine how a toddler could be so anxiety-ridden that they need psychiatric help. Equally difficult to fathom are many other symptoms of social breakdown among America’s children. Eating disorders, for example: the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s, and girls are developing these problems at younger and younger ages.[2]

If eating disorders are the bane of America’s young girls, violence is a more common problem for its boys. Consider the fact that there have been more than 150 school shootings in the US since 1990, claiming 165 lives. The youngest killer? A six-year old boy.[3]

Sometimes the violence is directed inward, with suicide the result. In America today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. In 2013, 17 percent of US high school students seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.[4]

What has made America’s children so insecure and troubled? A number of causes are surely involved, most of which can be linked to the global economy. For example, as corporations scour the world for bigger subsidies and lower costs, jobs move with them, and families as well: the typical American moves eleven times during their life, repeatedly severing connections with relatives, neighbors and friends.[5]

Within almost every family, the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with even their own children. Americans put in longer hours than workers in any other industrialized country, with many breadwinners working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.[6] Increasing numbers of women are in the workforce, so there are no adults left at home; young children are relegated to day-care centers, while older children are left in the company of video games, the internet, or the corporate sponsors of their favorite television shows. According to a 2010 study of American children, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with various media; older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media. Not surprisingly, time spent in nature—something essential for our well-being—has all but disappeared: only 10 percent of American children spend time outside on a daily basis.[7]

America’s screen-obsessed children no longer have flesh-and-blood role models—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors—to look up to. Instead they have media and advertising images: rakish movie stars and music idols, steroid-enhanced athletes and airbrushed supermodels. Children who strive to emulate the manufactured “perfection” of these role models are left feeling insecure and inadequate. This is one reason cosmetic surgery is on the increase among America’s children. According to the president of the American Academy for Facial Plastic Surgery, “the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality.” What’s more, he adds, “we are seeing a younger demographic than ever before.”[8]

It seems clear that what is often called ‘American culture’ is no longer a product of the American people: it is instead an artificial consumer culture created and projected by corporate advertising and media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from the diverse cultures that for millennia were shaped by climate, topography, and the local biota—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world. This is a new phenomenon, something that has never happened before: a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than human and ecological needs. It is not surprising that American children, many of whom seem to “have everything,” are so unhappy: like their parents, their teachers and their peers, they have been put on a treadmill that is ever more stressful and competitive, ever more meaningless and lonely.

As the globalization juggernaut continues to advance, the number of victims worldwide is growing exponentially. Millions of children from Mongolia to Patagonia are today targeted by a fanatical and fundamentalist campaign to bring them into the consumer culture. The cost is massive in terms of self-rejection, psychological breakdown and violence. Like American children they are bombarded with sophisticated marketing messages telling them that this brand of make-up will inch them closer to perfection, that this brand of sneakers will make them more like their sports hero. But in the global South—where the ideal is often blue-eyed, blonde, and Western—children are even more vulnerable. It’s no wonder that sales of dangerous bleach to lighten the skin, and contact lenses advertised as “the color of eyes you wish you were born with,” are booming across the South.[9]

This psychological impoverishment is accompanied by a massive rise in material poverty. Even though more than 46 million Americans—nearly 15 percent of the population—live in poverty,[10] globalization aims to replicate the American model of development across the global South. Among the results are the elimination of small farmers and the gutting of rural communities, with hundreds of millions of people drawn into sweatshops or unemployment in rapidly growing urban slums. Meanwhile, many of those whose ways of life are threatened by the forces of globalization are turning to fundamentalism, even terrorism.

The central hope of the American Dream—that our children will have a better life than we do—seems to have vanished. Many people, in fact, no longer believe that our children really have any future at all.

Nonetheless policymakers insist that globalization is bringing a better world for everyone. How can there be such a gap between the cheerleading rhetoric and the lives of real people?

Part of the disconnect results from the way globalization’s promoters measure “progress.” The shallowest definition compares the modern consumer cornucopia with what was available 50 or 100 years ago—as though electronic gadgets and plastic gewgaws are synonymous with happiness and fulfillment. More often the baseline for comparison is the Dickensian period of the early industrial revolution, when exploitation and deprivation, pollution and squalor were rampant. From this starting point, our child-labor laws and 40-hour workweek look like real progress. Similarly, the baseline in the global South is the immediate post-colonial period, with its uprooted cultures, poverty, over-population and political instability. Based on the misery of these contrived starting points, political leaders can argue that our technologies and our economic system have brought a far better world into being, and that globalization will bring similar benefits to the “wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human beings” in the remaining “undeveloped” parts of the world.

In reality, however, globalization is a continuation of a broad process that started with the age of conquest and colonialism in the South and the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution in the North. From then on a single economic system has relentlessly expanded, taking over other cultures, other peoples’ resources and labor. Far from elevating those people from poverty, the globalizing economic system has systematically impoverished them.

If there is to be any hope of a better world, it is vital that we connect the dots between “progress” and poverty. Erasing other cultures—replacing them with an artificial culture created by corporations and the media they control—can only lead to an increase in social breakdown and poverty. Even in the narrowest economic terms, globalization means continuing to rob, rather than enrich, the majority. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined. Their assets have risen by more than $500 million since 2010, while the bottom 3.5 billion people have become poorer by $1 trillion.[11] This is globalization at work.

While globalization systematically widens the gap between rich and poor, attempting in the name of equity to globalize the American standard of living is a fool’s errand. The earth is finite, and global economic activity has already outstripped the planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the average American uses 32 times more resources and produces 32 times more waste than the average resident of the global South, it is a criminal hoax to promise that development can enable everyone to live the American Dream.[12]

The spread of globalization has been profoundly destructive to people’s ability to survive in their own cultures, in their own place on the earth. It has even been destructive to those considered to be its most privileged beneficiaries. Continuing down this corporate-determined path will only lead to further social, psychological and environmental breakdown. Whether they know it or not, America’s children are telling us we need to go in a very different direction.

 

Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

Steven Gorelick is Managing Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). He is the author of Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (pdf), co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home, and co-director of The Economics of Happiness. His writings have been published in The Ecologist and Resurgence magazines. He frequently teaches and speaks on local economics around the US.

http://www.alternet.org/local-peace-economy/how-globalization-impacts-american-dream?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=8