Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy


April 13, 2019

stiglitz257_Win McNameeGetty Images_trump nielsen

Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy

The US president’s attacks on America’s truth-seeking institutions jeopardize its continued prosperity and very ability to function as a democracy. As corporate giants capture the institutions that are supposed to protect ordinary citizens, a dystopia once imagined only by science fiction writers is emerging before our eyes.

NEW YORK – Kirstjen Nielsen’s forced resignation as US Secretary of Homeland Security is no reason to celebrate. Yes, she presided over the forced separation of families at the US border, notoriously housing young children in wire cages. But Nielsen’s departure is not likely to bring any improvement, as President Donald Trump wants to replace her with someone who will carry out his anti-immigrant policies even more ruthlessly.

Trump’s immigration policies are appalling in almost every aspect. And yet they may not be the worst feature of his administration. Indeed, identifying its foulest aspects has become a popular American parlor game. Yes, he has called immigrants criminals, rapists, and animals. But what about his deep misogyny or his boundless vulgarity and cruelty? Or his winking support of white supremacists? Or his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty? And, of course, there is his war on the environment, on health care, and on the rules-based international system.

This morbid game never ends, of course, because new contenders for the title emerge almost daily. Trump is a disrupting personality, and after he’s gone, we may well reflect on how such a deranged and morally challenged person could have been elected president of the world’s most powerful country in the first place.

But what concerns me most is Trump’s disruption of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of society. Trump’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) agenda is, of course, not about restoring the moral leadership of the United States. It embodies and celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption. MAGA is about economics. But that forces us to ask: what is the basis of America’s wealth?

Adam Smith tried to provide an answer in his classic 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. For centuries, Smith noted, standards of living had been stagnant; then, toward the end of the eighteenth century, incomes start to soar. WhySmith himself was a leading light of the great intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment. The questioning of established authority that followed the earlier Reformation in Europe forced society to ask: How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?From the search for answers to these questions arose a new epistemology, based on the empiricism and skepticism of science, which came to prevail over the forces of religion, tradition, and superstition. Over time, universities and other research institutions were established to help us judge truth and discover the nature of our world. Much of what we take for granted today – from electricity, transistors, and computers to lasers, modern medicine, and smartphones – is the result of this new disposition, undergirded by basic scientific research (most of it financed by government).

The absence of royal or ecclesiastical authority to dictate how society should be organized to ensure that things worked out well, or as well as they could, meant that society had to figure it out for itself. But devising the institutions that would ensure society’s wellbeing was a more complicated matter than discovering the truths of nature. In general, one couldn’t conduct controlled experiments.

A close study of past experience could, however, be informative. One had to rely on reasoning and discourse – recognizing that no individual had a monopoly on our understandings of social organization. Out of this process emerged an appreciation that governance institutions based on the rule of law, due process, and checks and balances, and supported by foundational values like individual liberty and justice for all, are more likely to produce good and fair decisions. These institutions may not be perfect, but they have been designed so that it is more likely that flaws will be uncovered and eventually corrected.

That process of experimentation, learning, and adaptation, however, requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth. Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering, and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and independent media. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.Since Smith’s day, it has been shown that a nation’s wealth depends on the creativity and productivity of its people, which can be advanced only by embracing the spirit of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And it depends on steady improvements in social, political, and economic organization, discovered through reasoned public discourse.

The attack by Trump and his administration on every one of the pillars of American society – and his especially aggressive vilification of the country’s truth-seeking institutions – jeopardizes its continued prosperity and very ability to function as a democracy. Nor do there appear to be checks on corporate giants’ efforts to capture the institutions – the courts, legislatures, regulatory agencies, and major media outlets – that are supposed to prevent them from exploiting workers and consumers. A dystopia previously imagined only by science fiction writers is emerging before our eyes. It should give us chills to think of who “wins” in this world, and who or what we might become, just in the struggle to survive.

 

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute. His latest book, People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, will be published in April.

Liberalisation and empowerment the path to Malaysian prosperity


March 25, 2010

Liberalisation and empowerment the path to Malaysian prosperity

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/03/25/liberalisation-and-empowerment-the-path-to-malaysian-prosperity/

It’s nearly a year since the Malaysian people overwhelmingly cast aside the domineering, divisive and corruption-riddled government of Najib Razak for an alternative led by Mohamad Mahathir that promised renewed focus on the people’s interests. The new Pakatan Harapan government undertook to restore good governance, raise the bar for ministers and civil servants, recover embezzled funds and deliver them back to Malaysians as cost of living relief.

A view of a building site beneath the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 18 February 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Olivia Harris).

Translating rhetoric into action has thus far proven an uphill battle for an inexperienced government accustomed to life in opposition. It’s struggling to turn the vision into concrete reforms, as it tries to navigate a hostile upper house and entrenched vested interests. Progress has been confined to a handful of easy wins and the multiplication of committees to continue decades-old debates about well-understood policy failings. Malaysians are becoming restless for the government to deliver on the promise of a ‘New Malaysia’ that secures livings standards regardless of ethnicity.

Efforts to deconcentrate centralised power structures and break up state monopolies are central to reinvigorating the economy. This will enable more effective governance and help tackle endemic corruption. Malaysia’s Federal Government commands over 88 per cent of total government revenue and expenditure (the share is closer to 50 per cent in federations like Australia and the United States), leaving almost 170 states and local authorities with limited resources to address local needs. Imperious policymaking from the administrative capital of Putrajaya coupled with non-elected local governments bedevil the effective delivery of local services including law enforcement, education and healthcare.

This week’s lead article by Wing Thye Woo argues that ‘[g]rowth requires state governments that are empowered to plan and implement their own development strategies’. This would require a significant shift from the highly political allocation of development finance that penalised opposition-led states under the former government.

Government-linked corporations (GLCs) dominate the Malaysian economy and that needs to change. GLCs command a majority share of market capitalisation and key sectors of the economy including natural resources, utilities, construction and finance. Policies that reinforce GLC dominance stifle innovative and dynamic small and medium enterprises and competitiveness.

As Woo says, ‘GLCs may perform well in theory, but they don’t in practice — officials inevitably use them for political patronage and personal corruption. GLCs are political creatures, not economic instruments … Downsizing the state-related sector through privatisation is necessary for economic efficiency, political accountability and income equality’.

The government has acknowledged the problem but has been tentative in its approach to this critical reform. Its first substantive policy announcements and budget provided a major setback, reinforcing the role of GLCs in ethnic Malay development strategies and increasing government dependence on GLC dividends. It’s unclear whether the government now has the clout and political fortitude to pursue a privatisation and competition agenda.

Decentralisation is more than just government ownership and power-sharing; it encompasses a shift in the mentality of government from one underpinned by heavy-handed direction to one of empowerment. This requires the creation of institutional and regulatory environments that empower people to shape the policies that affect them, private business and entrepreneurship to fuel the engine room of economic growth, and all levels of government to deliver an enabling environment in which private actors flourish.

Empowerment means replacing ethnic discrimination with inclusive approaches to policy making, lifting up all low-income households. It means constructing a tax and transfer system that reduces rather than perpetuates inequality and cost of living pressures, positively reshaping the social contract between taxpayers and government. And it requires liberating the education system from the mechanistic, dictatorial, one-size-fits-all approach that has prioritised a one-eyed conception of nation-building over the development of inquisitive and adaptable minds.

Effective governance starts with a recognition that meaningful reforms may not please everyone but if done well can benefit all. It requires the strength of conviction to stay the course in the face of interest group pressures, avoiding discouraging U-turns like abandoning intentions to sign the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It entails more than a solitary sugar tax to raise funds for development and social welfare when the tax revenue share of GDP is a third of the OECD average. And it requires delivering substantive reforms to education in the light (or in spite) of next month’s special task force report.

The government’s recent by-election defeat in Semenyih provides a wake-up call that its support among middle-class Malaysians depends on improving its performance not on disparaging its predecessor. That means harnessing the electorate’s heightened expectations towards charting a more prosperous course for the economy, governance and for the Malaysian people.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

 

Decentralisation the best bet for Malaysia’s growth

Author: by Dr. Wing Thye Woo, Sunway University

Malaysia’s burgeoning middle class has high expectations for future economic development. But the nation won’t escape the ‘middle-income trap’ and won’t have socially-inclusive growth under current government policies. A range of reforms that deliver decentralised decision-making is needed to build the knowledge-led economy to propel Malaysia to the next level of development.

A view of the Kuala Lumpur city skyline in Malaysia, 7 February 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin).

Malaysia’s current policy framework has its roots in the 1970 New Economic Policy (NEP) and its socio-political counterpart ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Supremacy of Malays). NEP has succeeded in building a large Malay middle class that is informed, skilled and confident about its identity. But it’s also well aware that these two policies rooted in the past are not capable of transforming Malaysia into a developed nation.

To meet these aspirations, reform is urgently needed in three key economic areas. Each area requires a common reform component: the careful entrenchment of decentralised decision-making.

First, the state’s administrative structure inhibits innovative policymaking and prevents effective oversight. The federal government is much larger and more cumbersome than state governments and has disproportionate power.

Image result for The Malaysian economy

Contrasting budgets and spending power reveal the imbalance between federal and state governments. The federal government has legal authority to impose income and sales taxes. But state governments must rely on land-related transactions and fees on small-ticket items like hawker licenses for independent revenue. The provision of most public services is done through branches of federal ministries operating at the state level.

State expenditure is determined by fiscal allocations from the federal government to state governments, and the amounts allocated depend on political considerations. Under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government, opposition-controlled states received budgetary allocations that were proportionately much smaller than BN-controlled states. State governments are banned from borrowing to finance development projects, and that means they are unable to raise revenue to build the infrastructure needed to clear production bottlenecks in local industries.

Image result for The Malaysian economy

Growth requires state governments that are empowered to plan and implement their own development strategies. Effective decentralisation requires each state government to have its own civil service. States will also need much larger shares of tax revenue, based on factors like developmental stage and tax revenue contribution. They should also be allowed to borrow to finance local infrastructure projects — with the commitment that there will be no federal bailouts — and be invested with significant responsibilities that are currently held by federal ministries.

The second key task is reforming government-linked corporations (GLCs). GLCs are crowding out the private sector, reducing economic dynamism. They also enable corruption that increases income inequality.

GLCs may perform well in theory, but they don’t in practice — officials inevitably use them for political patronage and personal corruption. GLCs are political creatures, not economic instruments.

Competition between GLCs and private firms is intrinsically unfair and harmful for overall growth. No matter how inefficient GLCs are, they can always count on government bailouts. They undermine economic dynamism by buying up their more efficient private competitors. Worse still, they prevent the development of a dynamic Malay business community by pulling capable Malays entrepreneurs away from starting private businesses and into cosy, life-long GLC jobs.

Downsizing the state-related sector through privatisation is necessary for economic efficiency, political accountability and income equality. The only two considerations in choosing buyers should be the size of the bid and the promotion of industry competition. A well-prepared and transparent privatisation process is more important than a speedy one.

The third key economic reform task is diversifying and expanding the banking system. The financial sector’s monopoly structure damages economic performance and worsens income inequality by suppressing the operations of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The 1997 Asian financial crisis convinced the Malaysian government that the banking system would be less prone to crisis if regulators could more easily monitor them. The result was the forced consolidation of smaller banks into 10 big banks in 2000.

This action made state investment companies the controlling shareholders in most commercial banks, effectively creating a state-owned banking monopoly. These banks are slow in adopting better payment practices and providing new financial products, shoddy in their treatment of small retail customers, and biased in lending towards GLCs. The small number of banks and the extent of state control in the largest banks are to blame.

One serious defect of the bank consolidation was that Malaysian SMEs began experiencing difficulties in getting capital from the large banks, replicating the international experience that SME financing comes mostly from small and medium-sized banks. In response, the Malaysian government established the state-owned SME Bank in 2005. But the SME Bank is not meeting the sector’s capital needs. It also has the highest non-performing loan ratio in the banking industry. The slow growth of the SME sector means new Malay bus­­­inesses are not emerging and the distribution of income is worsening.

Reforming the banking sector will mean allowing private small and medium-sized banks to exist again, reducing the government’s bank share holdings, and removing restrictions on foreign banks and their activities.

The NEP is essentially ‘Ketuanan Centralisation’ (Supremacy of Centralisation) in the economic sphere, manifesting as ‘Ketuanan Federal Government’ in governance, ‘Ketuanan GLC’ in production, and ‘Ketuanan Monopoly Bank’ in finance.

NEP cannot mobilise the entire brain-power of Malaysia for knowledge-creation because it prevents entrenchment of excellence in socio-economic institutions, and induces brain drain and capital flight. For Malaysia to escape the middle-income trap, ‘Ketuanan Centralisation’ must be purged from the public policy framework to make way for knowledge-led growth.

Wing Thye Woo is President of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia and Director of the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University and Professor of Economics at the University of California at Davis; he holds adjunct academic positions at Fudan University and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

 

 

The AI Road to Serfdom?


February 23, 2019

The AI Road to Serfdom?

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/automation-may-not-boost-worker-income-by-robert-skidelsky-2019-02

man robot

Estimates of job losses in the near future due to automation range from 9% to 47%, and jobs themselves are becoming ever more precarious. Should we trust the conventional economic narrative according to which machines inevitably raise workers’ living standards?

Estimates of job losses in the near future due to automation range from 9% to 47%, and jobs themselves are becoming ever more precarious. Yet automation also promises relief from most forms of enforced work, bringing closer to reality Aristotle’s extraordinary prediction that all needed work would one day be carried out by “mechanical slaves,” leaving humans free to live the “good life.” So the age-old question arises again: are machines a threat to humans or a means of emancipating them?

In principle, there need be no contradiction. Automating part of human labor should enable people to work less for more pay, as has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. Hours of work have fallen and real incomes have risen, even as the world’s population increased sevenfold, thanks to the increased productivity of machine-enhanced labor. In rich countries, productivity – output per hour worked – is 25 times higher than it was in 1831. The world has become steadily wealthier with fewer man-hours of work needed to produce that wealth.

Why should this benign process not continue? Where is the serpent in the garden? Most economists would say it is imaginary. People, like novice chess players, see only the first move, not the consequences of it. The first move is that workers in a particular sector are replaced by machines, like the Luddite weavers who lost their jobs to power looms in the nineteenth century. In David Ricardo’s chilling phrase, they become “redundant”.

.But what happens next? The price of clothes falls, because more can be produced at the same cost. So people can buy more clothes, and a greater variety of clothes, as well as other items they could not have afforded before. Jobs are created to meet the shift in demand, replacing the original jobs lost, and if productivity growth continues, hours of work can fall as well.

Notice that, in this rosy scenario, no trade unions, minimum wages, job protections, or schemes of redistribution are needed to raise workers’ real (inflation-adjusted) income. Rising wages are an automatic effect of the fall in the cost of goods. Provided there is no downward pressure on money wages from increased competition for work, the automatic effect of technological innovation is to raise the standard of living.

This is the famous argument of Friedrich Hayek against any attempt by governments or central banks to stabilize the price level. In any technologically progressive economy, prices should fall except in a few niche markets. Businessmen don’t need low inflation to expand production. They need only the prospect of more sales. “Dearness” of goods is a sign of technological stagnation.

But our chess novice raises two important questions: “If automation is not confined to a single industry, but spreads to others, won’t more and more jobs become redundant? And won’t the increased competition for the remaining jobs force down pay, offsetting and even reversing the gains from cheapness?”

Human beings, the economist replies, will not be replaced, but complemented. Automated systems, whether or not in robot form, will enhance, not destroy, the value of human work, just as a human plus a good computer can still beat the best computer at chess. Of course, humans will have to be “up-skilled.” This will take time, and it will need to be continuous. But once up-skilling is in train, there is no reason to expect any net loss of jobs. And because the value of the jobs will have been enhanced, real incomes will continue to rise. Rather than fearing the machines, humans should relax and enjoy the ride to a glorious future.

Besides, the economist will add, machines cannot replace many jobs requiring person-to-person contact, physical dexterity, or non-routine decision-making, at least not any time soon. So there will always be a place for humans in any future pattern of work.

Ignore for a moment, the horrendous costs involved in this wholesale re-direction of human work. The question is which jobs are most at risk in which sectors. According to MIT economist David Autor, automation will substitute for more routinized occupations and complement high-skill, non-routine jobs. Whereas the effects on low-skill jobs will remain relatively unaffected, medium-skill jobs will gradually disappear, while demand for high-skill jobs will rise. “Lovely jobs” at the top and “lousy jobs” at the bottom, as LSE economists Maarten Goos and Alan Manning described it. The frontier of technology stops at what is irreducibly human.

But a future patterned along the lines suggested by Autor has a disturbingly dystopian implication. It is easy to see why lovely human jobs will remain and become even more prized. Exceptional talent will always command a premium. But is it true that lousy jobs will be confined to those with minimal skills? How long will it take those headed for redundancy to up-skill sufficiently to complement the ever-improving machines? And, pending their up-skilling, won’t they swell the competition for lousy jobs? How many generations will have to be sacrificed to fulfil the promise of automation? Science fiction has raced ahead of economic analysis to imagine a future in which a tiny minority of rich rentiers enjoy the almost unlimited services of a minimally-paid majority.

The optimist says: leave it to the market to forge a new, superior equilibrium, as it always has. The pessimist says: without collective action to control the pace and type of innovation, a new serfdom beckons. But while the need for policy intervention to channel automation to human advantage is beyond question, the real serpent in the garden is philosophical and ethical blindness. “A society can be said to be decadent,” wrote the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, “if it so functions as to encourage a decadent life, a life addicted to what is inhuman by its very nature.”

It is not human jobs that are at risk from the rise of the robots. It is humanity itself.

Image result for Robert Skidelsky,

Robert Skidelsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a fellow of the British Academy in history and economics, is a member of the British House of Lords. The author of a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, he began his political career in the Labour party, became the Conservative Party’s spokesman for Treasury affairs in the House of Lords, and was eventually forced out of the Conservative Party for his opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

‘The Vagina Monologues’: Untold stories of womanhood


February 19,2019

‘The Vagina Monologues’: Untold stories of womanhood

by Som Kanika / Khmer Times

Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience. KT/Som Kanika

It was in 1996 when Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” premiered in New York City. More than two decades on, the episodic play continues to draw women together and inspire them to embrace their bodies and womanhood. During last week’s Phnom Fem Fest, “The Vagina Monologues” was brought again to Phnom Penh to empower Khmer women, writes Som Kanika.

Drawing inspiration from the an episodic play “The Vagina Monologues” written by Eve Ensler and was first performed in 1996, a group of local and expat women worked hard to bring the motivational play to Cambodia in time for the Phnom Fem Fest which began on February 15.

“The Vagina Monologues” explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, sex work, and several other topics through the eyes of women with various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences.

. .
The monologues use the female reproductive organ as a tool for empowerment. KT/Som Kanika

Shauna O’Mahony, Men Sonita, Emily Marques, Phoebe Ray and Alex Kennett – the directors of the Phnom Fem Fest – said that playing the thought-provoking “The Vagina Monologues” story in Phnom Penh was meant to inspire and empower Cambodian women to embrace their womanhood and fight for their rights. With its three-night run from February 15 to 17, the play drew a large crowd at the Chinese House on Preah Sisowath Quay.

The Vagina Monologues is made up of various personal monologues read by a diverse group of women. Originally, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring three actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role. Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, sex work, body image, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the various common names for the vagina or simply as a physical aspect of the body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality.

The play – first performed Off-Broadway and in locations around the world by Ms Ensler – delves into the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement in women’s experiences. V-Day grew out of the play which exploded onto the scene in 1998, breaking taboos about women’s sexuality and shattering silence around violence done to women and girls. Strong language and sexual content. Recommended for ages 16 and older.

Having committed in the play writing and rehearsal for more than three months, Ms Sonita, emphasised that, “In this country, the word ‘vagina’ is one of the most sensitive topic and not too many women have the courage to talk about it. However, we can see that there are many issues that we need to know and discuss about vagina, such as health issues, its beauty and function. But talking about these seemed to cause condemnation before because it contradicts the code of conduct set for women in Cambodia. By creating this festival and performance, we want to change how women and the society in general see this sensitive topic. We want to break taboos in term of discussing a woman’s body in publich. We want to encourage more women to talk about the importance of their body because there’s really nothing to be ashamed of.”

Ms Sonita further note, “The inspiration leading me to take part in this festival and performance is my family. I grew up in an environment where my family gave me freedom to follow what I believe is right, and they listen to my opinion. And taking part in this festival and creating it up is part of my core desire to see Cambodian women in the next generation to have this kind of freedom, too.”

. .

“The Vagina Monologues” producer and director Alex Kennett, who has been living in Cambodia for 21 months now, noted that the play had been performed in Cambodia a few times before and people enjoyed it very much. “But this year, we would like to change some things including the Khmer translation and the participation of Khmer women performers, which is really important to us because what the monologue has to say is something that is for women everywhere. And I find that the ideas are really powerful so we wanted to bring it here.”

One of the interesting facts about the three-day Phnom Fem Festival and “The Vagina Monologues” performances was the producers and directors’ choice of highlighting specific issues that are relevant in Cambodia’s present situation.

Some of the actors of the thought-provoking play. KT/Som Kanika

“Each year they make a new issue that they want to focus on and for this year one of among the three spotlights is ‘incarceration of women’ which was in line with the 40th anniversary of the end of Khmer Rouge. It talked about the story of imprisonment of women at that time,” Ms Kennett said.

A theater performer and enthusiast, 22-year-old Ham Sovanpidor, was glad to be part of the play and deliver a strong message to her fellow women.

“This event is created for women and having women to participate in is really important in a way that shows Cambodia women should have a courage to talk more about her sex matters because the performance will feature many aspects of feminine experiences related sex beauty, menstruation, organism and more which are all related to women in general and it is vital for them to know too,” said Ms Sovanpidor, a student at the Department of Media and Communication.

Phnom Fem Fest is a registered international V-Day event, and this year’s V-Day spotlight was focused on ending gender-based violence and supporting previously incarcerated women. All profits from Phnom Fem Fest would go directly to Early Years Behind Bars, an initiative from a local human rights NGO that supports women, mothers and children in Cambodian prisons.

 

In defense of the elites


February 5, 2019

In defense of the elites

 

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/31/in-defense-of-the-elites

This year’s World Economic Forum, more than usual, prompted a spirited round of elite-bashing, which has now become the trendy political posture on both the right and left. On one side, President Trump and Fox News hosts slam the out-of-touch establishment that, according to them, has run things into the ground. On the other side, left-wingers decry the millionaires and billionaires who, in one author’s phrase, “broke the modern world.”

Underlying these twin critiques is a bleak view of modern life — seen as a dysfunctional global order, producing stagnant incomes, rising insecurity and environmental degradation. But is this depiction, in fact, true? Are we doing so very badly that we need to bring back the guillotines?

On the simplest and most important measure, income, the story is actually one of astonishing progress. Since 1990, more than 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. The share of the global population living in these dire conditions has gone from 36 percent to 10 percent, the lowest in recorded history. This is, as the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, notes, “one of the greatest achievements of our time.” Inequality, from a global perspective, has declined dramatically.

And all this has happened chiefly because countries — from China to India to Ethiopia — have adopted more market-friendly policies, and Western countries have helped them with access to markets, humanitarian assistance and loan forgiveness. In other words, policies supported by these very elites.

Look at any measure from a global perspective and the numbers are staggering. The child mortality rate is down 58 percent since 1990. Undernourishment has fallen 41 percent, and maternal deaths (women dying because of childbirth) have dropped by 43 percent over roughly the same period.

I know the response that some will have to these statistics. The figures pertain to the world in general, not the United States. Things might have improved for the Chinese, but not for the denizens of rich countries. That sense of “unfairness” is what is surely fueling Trump’s “America First” agenda and much of the anger on the right at the international system. (More bewilderingly, the left, traditionally concerned about the poorest of the poor, has become critical of a process that has improved the lives of at least 1 billion of the world’s most impoverished people.)

When criticizing the current state of affairs, it’s easy to hark back to some nostalgic old order, the modern world before the current elites “broke” it. But when was that golden age? In the 1950s, when Jim Crow reigned in the United States and women could barely work as anything more than seamstresses and secretaries? The 1980s, when two-thirds of the globe stagnated under state socialism, repression and isolation? What group of elites — kings, commissars, mandarins — ran the world better than our current hodgepodge of politicians and business executives?

Even in the West, it is easy to take for granted the astounding progress. We live longer, the air and water are cleaner, crime has plunged, and information and communication are virtually free. Economically, there have been gains, though crucially, they have not been distributed equally.

But there have been monumental improvements in access and opportunity for large segments of the population that were locked out and pushed down. In the United States, the gap between black and white high school completion has almost disappeared. The poverty gap between blacks and whites has shrunk (but remains distressingly large). Hispanic college enrollment has soared. The gender gap between wages for men and women has narrowed. The number of female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies has gone from one to 24 over the past 20 years. Female membership in national legislatures of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries has almost doubled in the same period. No countries allowed same-sex marriage two decades ago, but more than 20 countries do today. In all these areas, much remains to be done. But in each of them, there has been striking progress.

I understand that important segments of the Western working class are under great pressure, and that they often feel ignored and left behind by this progress. We must find ways to give them greater economic support and moral dignity. But extensive research shows that some of their discomfort comes from watching a society in which these other groups are rising, changing the nature of the world in which they’d enjoyed a comfortable status.

After 400 years of slavery, segregation and discrimination in the United States, blacks have been moving up. After thousands of years of being treated as structurally subordinate, women are now gaining genuine equality. Once considered criminals or deviants, gays can finally live and love freely in many countries. The fact that these changes might cause discomfort to some is not a reason to pause, nor to forget that it represents deep and lasting human progress that we should celebrate.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Warning!Everything is going Deep: The Age Of ‘ Surveillance Capitalism’


February 3, 2019

Around the end of each year major dictionaries declare their “word of the year.” Last year, for instance, the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster.com was “justice.” Well, even though it’s early, I’m ready to declare the word of the year for 2019.

The word is “deep.”

Why? Because recent advances in the speed and scope of digitization, connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence are now taking us “deep” into places and into powers that we’ve never experienced before — and that governments have never had to regulate before. I’m talking about deep learning, deep insights, deep surveillance, deep facial recognition, deep voice recognition, deep automation and deep artificial minds.

Image result for thomas friedman

Some of these technologies offer unprecedented promise and some unprecedented peril — but they’re all now part of our lives. Everything is going deep.

We sure are. But the lifeguard is still on the beach and — here’s what’s really scary — he doesn’t know how to swim! More about that later. For now, how did we get so deep down where the sharks live?

The short answer: Technology moves up in steps, and each step, each new platform, is usually biased toward a new set of capabilities. Around the year 2000 we took a huge step up that was biased toward connectivity, because of the explosion of fiber-optic cable, wireless and satellites.

Suddenly connectivity became so fast, cheap, easy for you and ubiquitous that it felt like you could touch someone whom you could never touch before and that you could be touched by someone who could never touch you before.

Around 2007, we took another big step up. The iPhone, sensors, digitization, big data, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing melded together and created a new platform that was biased toward abstracting complexity at a speed, scope and scale we’d never experienced before.

So many complex things became simplified. Complexity became so fast, free, easy to use and invisible that soon with one touch on Uber’s app you could page a taxi, direct a taxi, pay a taxi, rate a taxi driver and be rated by a taxi driver.

That’s why the adjective that so many people are affixing to all of these new capabilities to convey their awesome power is “deep.”

On Jan. 20, The London Observer looked at Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, the title of which perfectly describes the deep dark waters we’ve entered: “The Age of Surveillance Capital.”

“Surveillance capitalism,” Zuboff wrote, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence,’ and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioral futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behavior.”

Unfortunately, we have not developed the regulations or governance, or scaled the ethics, to manage a world of such deep powers, deep interactions and deep potential abuses.

 

Two quotes tell that story: Last April, Senator Orrin Hatch was questioning Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg during a joint hearing of the commerce and judiciary committees. At one point Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

Zuckerberg, clearly trying to stifle a laugh, replied, “Senator, we run ads.” Hatch did not seem to understand that Facebook’s business model is to mine users’ data and then run targeted ads — and Hatch was one of Facebook’s regulators.

But then Zuckerberg was also clueless about how deep the powers of the Facebook platform had gone — deep enough that a few smart Russian hackers could manipulate it to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

Image result for Zuckerberg

When faced with evidence that fake news spread on Facebook influenced the outcome of the 2016 election, Zuckerberg dismissed that notion as a “pretty crazy idea.” It turns out that it was happening at an industrial scale and he later had to apologize.

Regulations often lag behind new technologies, but when they move this fast and cut this deep, that lag can be really dangerous. I wish I thought that catch-up was around the corner. I don’t. Our national discussion has never been more shallow — reduced to 280 characters.

This has created an opening and burgeoning demand for political, social and religious leaders, government institutions and businesses that can go deep — that can validate what is real and offer the public deep truths, deep privacy protections and deep trust.

But deep trust and deep loyalty cannot be forged overnight. They take time. That’s one reason this old newspaper I work for — the Gray Lady — is doing so well today. Not all, but many people, are desperate for trusted navigators.

Many will also look for that attribute in our next President, because they sense that deep changes are afoot. It is unsettling, and yet, there’s no swimming back. We are, indeed, far from the shallow now.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award.

 

@tomfriedman Facebook

 

 

 

interactions and deep potential abuses.

https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-31/html/container.htmlImage result for thomas friedman

 

Two quotes tell that story: Last April, Senator Orrin Hatch was questioning Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg during a joint hearing of the commerce and judiciary committees. At one point Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

 

Zuckerberg, clearly trying to stifle a laugh, replied, “Senator, we run ads.” Hatch did not seem to understand that Facebook’s business model is to mine users’ data and then run targeted ads — and Hatch was one of Facebook’s regulators.

But then Zuckerberg was also clueless about how deep the powers of the Facebook platform had gone — deep enough that a few smart Russian hackers could manipulate it to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

When faced with evidence that fake news spread on Facebook influenced the outcome of the 2016 election, Zuckerberg dismissed that notion as a “pretty crazy idea.” It turns out that it was happening at an industrial scale and he later had to apologize.

Regulations often lag behind new technologies, but when they move this fast and cut this deep, that lag can be really dangerous. I wish I thought that catch-up was around the corner. I don’t. Our national discussion has never been more shallow — reduced to 280 characters.

This has created an opening and burgeoning demand for political, social and religious leaders, government institutions and businesses that can go deep — that can validate what is real and offer the public deep truths, deep privacy protections and deep trust.

But deep trust and deep loyalty cannot be forged overnight. They take time. That’s one reason this old newspaper I work for — the Gray Lady — is doing so well today. Not all, but many people, are desperate for trusted navigators.

Many will also look for that attribute in our next president, because they sense that deep changes are afoot. It is unsettling, and yet, there’s no swimming back. We are, indeed, far from the shallow now.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedman Facebook

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Warning! Everything Is Going Deep. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe