Newsletter 2

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Still working to secure a logo, over here. This week’s image was sent by a friend–if you’ve got a photo to share that says something about today’s economy, please email it to kati (at) hacktheunion (dot) org.

The singularity approaches

The White House held a Google Hangout to discuss the potential of robots to increase US economic activity by $100 billion over the next ten years. Roboticists* from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Texas A & M, and the amazing YA novelist John Green participated. Spoiler alert: the industrial accident that befalls Max in Elysium won’t actually be a problem in the future, because MIT will have figured out how to roboticize all the steps of production. Sadly, all those Task Rabbits who are cobbling together a living by assembling Ikea furniture soon will just be handing tools to a ‘bot. (Somehow, robot scientists seem to believe that they themselves are irreplaceable, while simultaneously developing robots that can made out of $10 worth of parts.) BTW–be careful. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics aren’t actually the law yet. Robots can hurt you.

This one’s not new–just new to me (and probably you)–Brian Arthur, an economist at PARC, writes about the ways that digitization is forming an invisible, second economy in a way that will certainly make you think differently about your next plane trip. In a week when every other tweet by Market Watch was about how you should delete all investing apps from your smartphone lest you accidentally do something stupid, it gave me pause.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

In The Rise of the Naked Economy, co-authors Ryan Coonerty & Jeremy Neuner compare the challenges of the digital economy to the changes wrought by the Agricultural & Industrial Revolutions. In this interview, Neuner talks about the social policy changes that need to be made in response to today’s changes. Here’s the money quote:

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Gallup this week put out their biennial survey “State of the American Workplace,” surveying the attitudes of US workers for the benefit of US employers. Major takeaway? Employee disengagement is costing the US roughly half a trillion dollars per year, so “Let’s get rid of managers from hell…” Yes, let’s.

A Canadian group, the Wagemark Foundation, has created a new standard to certify socially responsible businesses based on how much the company does to promote income equality through their own pay structures. Participating companies cannot have more than an 8:1 ratio between their highest- and lowest-paid earners. Pretty sure that Jamie Dimon won’t be applying for this one.

The Economist, of all places, talked about how the disaggregation of the workforce makes it harder for workers to organize to improve their livelihoods.

Geeking Out

If you’ve been wondering, since last week, just what you will print when your town library gets that 3D printer? Wonder no more. It’s time for your jaw implant.

Final thoughts

“America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Over the course of the twentieth century alone, real income per capita (adjusted for inflation) increased roughly sevenfold in the United States. As we have seen, so wealthy is our nation that were income divided equally today, all families of four would receive almsot $200,000. (Alternatively, of course, the workweek could be cut in half, with family income reduced on average to $100,000–roughly two times current median family income.” Gar Alperovitz, What Then Must We Do?

*BTW, kudos to the White House geeks for making sure that the panel of participants was gender balanced, and for highlighting a viewer-question to the women scientists–now time to work on the racial balance.

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