Just a decade ago, Silicon Valley pitched itself as a savvy ambassador of a newer, cooler, more humane kind of capitalism. It quickly became the darling of the elite, of the international media, and of that mythical, omniscient tribe: the “digital natives”. While an occasional critic – always easy to dismiss as a neo-Luddite – did voice concerns about their disregard for privacy or their geeky, almost autistic aloofness, public opinion was firmly on the side of technology firms.Silicon Valley was the best that America had to offer; tech companies frequently occupied – and still do – top spots on lists of the world’s most admired brands. And there was much to admire: a highly dynamic, innovative industry, Silicon Valley has found a way to convert scrolls, likes and clicks into lofty political ideals, helping to export freedom, democracy and human rights to the Middle East and north Africa. Who knew that the only thing thwarting the global democratic revolution was capitalism’s inability to capture and monetise the eyeballs of strangers?
Tag Archives: Economy
There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time.
NEW YORK – Hurricane Harvey has left in its wake upended lives and enormous property damage, estimated by some at $150-180 billion. But the rains that inundated the Texas coast for the better part of a week, and the hurricane that is about to hit South Florida, also raise deep questions about the United States’ economic system and politics.
here have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future – a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: I’ve seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future.
One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the city’s residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive
Water boils at 100°C; that’s certain. But there’s little point expecting the behaviour of societies to conform to the laws of physics. That 1% of people command the majority of the world’s wealth does not mean that the 99% are a cohesive social group, still less a political force at boiling point.The 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement was built around an idea and a slogan: ‘We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.’ Studies just before it happened showed that almost all of the gains from an economic upturn had gone to the US’s wealthiest 1%. This wasn’t a historical aberration or a national exception. Almost everywhere a similar outcome has consistently been encouraged by government policy. In France, the tax plans of President Macron will largely benefit ‘the richest 280,000 households … whose assets are mainly in the form of financial investments and business shares’ (1).
Although America’s right-wing plutocrats may disagree about how to rank the country’s major problems – for example, inequality, slow growth, low productivity, opioid addiction, poor schools, and deteriorating infrastructure – the solution is always the same: lower taxes and deregulation, to “incentivize” investors and “free up” the economy. President Donald Trump is counting on this package to make America great again.
It won’t, because it never has. When President Ronald Reagan tried it in the 1980s, he claimed that tax revenues would rise. Instead, growth slowed, tax revenues fell, and workers suffered. The big winners in relative terms were corporations and the rich, who benefited from dramatically reduced tax rates.
China’s cardinal foreign policy imperative is to refrain from interfering abroad while advancing the proverbial good relations with key political actors – even when they may be at each other’s throats.Still, it’s nothing but gut-wrenching for Beijing to watch the current, unpredictable, Saudi-Qatari standoff. There’s no endgame in sight, as plausible scenarios include even regime change and a seismic geopolitical shift in Southwest Asia – what a Western-centric view calls the Middle East.And blood on the tracks in Southwest Asia cannot but translate into major trouble ahead for the New Silk Roads, now rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In just 10 years, the world’s five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed, save for one: Microsoft. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Citigroup and Shell Oil are out and Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon and Facebook have taken their place.They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.
There is immense concern about economic inequality, both among the scholarly community and in the general public, and many insist that equality is an important social goal. However, when people are asked about the ideal distribution of wealth in their country, they actually prefer unequal societies. We suggest that these two phenomena can be reconciled by noticing that, despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality. Both psychological research and decisions by policymakers would benefit from more clearly distinguishing inequality from unfairness.
Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.