Monday, February 11, 2019

Weekend reading links

1. FT points to 'fauxtomation', coined by Canadian activist Astra Taylor, the gulf between the myth of workless future and reality,
Take McDonald’s. I can now order my burger using giant touch screens, pay for it on the contactless card reader and then saunter up to the counter to collect it. This could be thought of as automating the work of a waiter; in reality, though, the company has convinced me to become an unpaid member of staff. The tasks I do — inputting an order into the system, sorting payment and then collecting the food from the kitchen — are all jobs that would normally be done by someone earning at least minimum wage. It’s the same when I use a self-service checkout at the supermarket, or check myself in and print out my own ticket for a flight. Technology has facilitated a shift in who is working, not eradicated it... Technology, Taylor argues, contributes to an illusion that human effort can be simply substituted by machines — like the famous “ Mechanical Turk” machine that could supposedly play chess but in reality contained a hidden chess master, or the dumbwaiters in Thomas Jefferson’s mansion that relied on hidden slaves.
And its impact on measured productivity,
“Fauxtomation” fits into a tradition of unpaid work being overlooked — work such as caring for the elderly or children, often done by women, that does not appear in official measures of economic output. The economist Diane Coyle argues that some of the extraordinary economic growth in the middle of the past century was probably due to women doing more paid work and less unpaid; if the latter had been valued properly in the first place, the postwar boom would not have been as large as it appears in the official figures. Similarly, the recent slowdown in productivity growth may be due to a move the other way, as everyone starts producing more outside working hours, whether on laptops at home or at supermarket checkouts. And then there’s what Coyle calls “do-it-yourself digital intermediation” — online platforms acting as our bank tellers, estate agents and insurance brokers. The benefits of these services getting cheaper ought to be reflected in higher spending elsewhere. But, Coyle argues, official measures of economic output are missing the value of our unpaid work, meaning the slowdown in productivity growth may not be as bad as it appears.
2. The collapse of the tailing dam in southeastern Brazil owned by mining giant Vale which killed at least 157 people, with 182 missing, is a classic case of socialising costs and privatising the benefits and one where criminal culpability should be traced right up to the top of the mining behemoth.

Vale knows that it can contain its costs by avoiding the construction of strong tailing dams and relying on shoe-string mud structures. The costs can be externalised and the savings can be appropriated privately. And when you add up several such externalities, it all begins to assume significant proportions. In simple terms, Vale, and other multinationals know that it can get away with a mud-dam and its attendant risks. 

What can be easily predicted is what will follow. There will be righteous indignation everywhere for the coming few weeks. Some junior employees on government and Vale's side will be sacrificed. And then everyone will forget and go on with life till the next incident happens. Incidentally, a similar accident on a tailing dam co-owned by Vale killed 19 people in 2015!

3. Some snippets about unemployment trends in India,
Instead of dropping out at a very early age, the percentage of women in the education system is very high until the age of 23-24. Earlier, it used to be only up to 17 years. So, there is a five-year shift; these people are no more in the labour force because they are still in the colleges. So that will reduce the labour force to some extent because they are out of the labour force. And earlier, the unemployment used to start at 20 onwards, now basically it is 24 onwards, so 20-24 they are in colleges and all that. So there’s a shift in the employment pattern from the report. Once they come out from the colleges, they are no more prepared to work on their father’s farm or looking after something and then get married and become housewives... This immediately will pick up the unemployment ratio because they are not showing up in the unemployment-numerator.
4. Livemint graphic on the unemployment problem among the educated,
A recent report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, State Of Working India 2018, noted that unemployment among the well-educated is thrice the national average. There are roughly 55 million people in the labour force who hold at least a graduate degree, and about 9 million of them are estimated to be unemployed, the report added.
5. Nice Economist article on the extra-territorial reach of American policies that seek to penalise global companies for violating American domestic rules. 
Since the turn of the century, America has ramped up judicial programmes whose reach is not restricted by its borders. Focused on enforcing its sanctions, reducing corruption in poor countries and fighting money-laundering and terrorism financing, it has found ways of prosecuting companies and their executives far beyond its shores... Most of the companies caught in its legal net are foreign, often European. Some come from countries in which doing business with Iran, for example, would be no problem were it not for America’s stance... There are instances where America’s long legal reach may have given an edge to its own firms over foreign rivals, as in the case of General Electric’s purchase of Alstom of France in 2014... 
Several elements tie together America’s various legal forays abroad. The first is their creeping extraterritoriality. American law starts with a presumption against application of its statutes beyond its borders. But prosecutors have wide authority over how the laws are interpreted. They have adopted an ever-more-expansive interpretation of who is subject to American law, lawyers say. A banking transaction that ultimately passes through New York—as many do, given the centrality of American dollars to global trade—can give prosecutors a toehold to inspect it. If two executives outside America use Google’s Gmail to communicate about a bribe, say, American prosecutors can claim that the Americanness of the email provider can make it their business. The global banking system also gives America an advantage. Lenders have been hit hard by American prosecutors, notably BNP Paribas, a French lender walloped in 2014 with an $8.9bn fine for facilitating trade with Sudan, Cuba and Iran. Deutsche Bank was fined $425m in 2017 for helping launder $10bn from Russia...
It seems plain to foreign critics that America disproportionately targets foreign companies. Over three-quarters of the $25bn it has exacted in fines for money-laundering, sanctions-busting and related offences has been against European banks, 15 of which have paid over $100m each, according to Fenergo, a consultancy. American banks have been fined less than $5bn over such misdeeds. Anti-corruption probes also fall disproportionately on foreign firms. Of the ten biggest FCPA fines, only two have fallen on American companies.
6. Finally, an article on the decline of bus commuters across UK,  
Since 2009 the number of bus journeys in Manchester has fallen by 14%. Austerity has played a role. Councils in England and Wales have slashed bus subsidies by 45% since 2010, resulting in 3,347 routes being cut back or closed... The average delay caused by congestion in Britain’s cities has increased by 14% in the past three decades... Manchester is badly affected: the 43 bus now takes nearly 80% longer to cover its route in rush hour than it did 30 years ago. The average speed of Stagecoach’s buses fell by 4.9% in 2014-16; one route which took just nine minutes seven years ago now takes 27, according to the company.

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