Showing posts with label income inequality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label income inequality. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Help, I'm a cop

Burmese Days
George Orwell
Fiction, 291 pages 

"It's a drag being a cop" ~ Frank Zappa, "Help, I'm a rock"

George Orwell was brainwashed. This happened in Myanmar (formerly Burma) during his five years as a policeman. He was brainwashed by the pukka sahibs’ code. The code of imperialist occupiers. The code of colonial hypocrisy. A code similar to the one currently protested by the BLM movement.

The protagonist of "Burmese Days" is not a policeman. However, John Flory has seen through the code and now belongs nowhere--not in Burma, nor back in England.

"It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England it is hard even to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs’ code.

In the end the secrecy of your revolt poisons you like a secret disease. Your whole life is a life of lies. Year after year you sit in Kipling-haunted little Clubs, whisky to right of you, Pink’un to left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists should be boiled in oil. You hear your Oriental friends called ‘greasy little babus’, and you admit, dutifully, that they are greasy little babus. You see louts fresh from school kicking grey-haired servants. The time comes when you burn with hatred of your own countrymen, when you long for a native rising to drown their Empire in blood. And in this there is nothing honourable, hardly even any sincerity. For, au fond, what do you care if the Indian Empire is a despotism, if Indians are bullied and exploited? You only care because the right of free speech is denied you. You are a creature of the despotism, a pukka sahib, tied tighter than a monk or a savage by an unbreakable system of tabus."

John Flory's story isn't a pleasant one. It's a story of a conflicted man wanting, but unable, to do the right thing. I wonder how many good cops feel this way, wanting to improve society but hampered by their coworkers. At any rate, it's a good read. This essay about Orwell and BLM is another good read.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Wrong name. Right problem.


Systemic Racism is not a good name for it. It’s not a formal system and there is no formal name. And yet it’s there, flowing through our culture like kerosene saturating a dry rag.

 It’s in the things we don’t think about. Pointless commentary, children’s rhymes, ethnic jokes, in the things we don’t realize we’ve said. Those things get inside our heads and it doesn’t occur to us to get them out.

 And in some cases, those things pollute entire organizations. Take the Kenosha, Wisconsin police for example. There is no excuse for the appalling crime committed on August 23 by its officers. And yet I don’t blame the police, at least not entirely.

Our culture is ailing and the disease has worsened in recent years. Many Americans are a paycheck or two away from being homeless. This is stressful for people, including police officers. That doesn’t excuse violent behavior, though it may help to explain it. There’s plenty we can do to change policing laws and weed out bad cops, but police thuggery is a symptom, not the root of America’s problem.

 Money is the problem. Too little is a problem. So is too much. Those with too much think of themselves as winners and of those with too little as losers. If the cops kill a few losers, it’s a small price to pay to maintain law and order.

 And what is “law and order”? It’s the maintenance of an unjust status quo. That’s what the president means when he uses those words in response to “Black lives matter” Those words don’t address justice. They address social control. During the 1890s, Tom Watson tried to unite poor blacks and whites politically. He said, “You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.” Let’s replace law and order with social justice before someone touches a match to a kerosene soaked rag.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


We are men. We know pain,
Which we freely acknowledge,
Yet we don’t complain.

It isn’t the pain that aggrieves.
It’s the unfairness
that comes
From those who deceive us.

Hypocrites all, they try to fool us
With improvised news,
With which they would school us.

They haven’t an ethos they would defend
Unless it’s that destiny decrees they hold the hill,
Even if that means crushing those below.

Winners keep losers poor and in debt.
And as they drown push them deeper
until they sputter, “I can’t breathe.”

Winners need losers in order to win.
So brainwash some. Impoverish many.
Murder a few. But never admit.
You’re no better than they.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Is there an artful approach to artificial intelligence?

During the week concluding 2017’s first half, three New York Times stories addressed the potential social dangers of Artificial Intelligence. Is this a mere coincidence, or is it rather a symptom of growing alarm? Previously economists have noted that just as industrialization eliminated many jobs only to create new ones, automation has done the same. But some economists now suspect that this time it will be different.

Kai-Fu Lee penned the most thoughtful of the week’s three stories. He notes, “Unlike the Industrial Revolution and the computer revolution, the A.I. revolution is not taking certain jobs (artisans, personal assistants who use paper and typewriters) and replacing them with other jobs (assembly-line workers, personal assistants conversant with computers). Instead, it is poised to bring about a wide-scale decimation of jobs — mostly lower-paying jobs but some higher-paying ones, too.” These will include, “Bank tellers, customer service representatives, telemarketers, stock and bond traders, even paralegals and radiologists,” who will, “gradually be replaced by such software.” In time robots and self driving vehicles will replace a slew of other jobs.

Lee notes that A.I. software is being developed faster than most people realize and that it has the potential to disrupt society in two ways. He asks; “we are thus facing two developments that do not sit easily together: enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands and enormous numbers of people out of work. What is to be done?”

Some who have pondered this question believe that education is the key to creating jobs in this soon-to-come economy. But Lee believes education is only a partial solution. “Artificial intelligence is poorly suited for jobs involving creativity, planning and “cross-domain” thinking — for example, the work of a trial lawyer. But these skills are typically required by high-paying jobs that may be hard to retrain displaced workers to do.” Lower paying, people-skill, jobs can’t easily be performed by artificial intelligence but, “How many bartenders does a society really need?”

Lee, among others, suggests that in addition to educating workers, a universal income may also be required. To prevent massive unemployment, Lee believes that service jobs which today are poorly paid, or done by volunteers, will acquire greater status. Wealth held by A.I.’s landlords and other wealthy people and companies will need to be taxed to pay for the new, and newly remodeled, jobs necessitated by A.I.

This means higher taxes, a solution applied during the Great Depression of the thirties, World War II, and the Cold War. However, high taxation went away in the Reagan era and it shows no sign of returning soon. Although high progressive taxes brought about a period during which America had a broader and more prosperous middle class, that approach has been unpopular in recent years. Instead, tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy have been used under the theory that wealth would trickle down and benefit society at large. These tax cuts have given the economy a few short-lived bumps, but they’ve also increased the nation’s deficits. Today, the top 20 percent of Americans hold roughly 90 percent of the country’s wealth. Recently both the Congress and the Senate proposed tax plans that would leave more than 20 million Americans without health insurance. Though universal health care is the norm in most well-developed nations, it’s an idea that remains unpopular in the United States. Lee and others who propose universal income are unrealistic: if universal healthcare is too socialistic for the United States, then a universal income will meet the same resistance.

Before universal income, or something like it, can become a reality, America’s economic attitudes will need to change. The difficulty here is that those with the most money influence our political process in a variety of ways—and they seem set on preserving their wealth. Today many Americans face poverty and economic uncertainty. The growth of A.I. will soon put more money in fewer hands increasing the misery of the 80 percent of Americans currently sharing 10 percent of the wealth.

Lee writes from Beijing. Perhaps his solution will work in China. But unless something major changes here, it won’t work in the United States.

Lee makes a secondary point as well. China and the United States are the two countries most likely to advance advanced A.I. technology. As they do so other nations may be plunged into poverty. Lee concludes, “…we are going to have to start thinking about how to minimize the looming A.I.-fueled gap between the haves and the have-nots, both within and between nations. Or to put the matter more optimistically: A.I. is presenting us with an opportunity to rethink economic inequality on a global scale. These challenges are too far-ranging in their effects for any nation to isolate itself from the rest of the world.”

Read more:
The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence
Daily Report: Automation’s Effect on Developing Tech Economies
Robocalypse Now? Central Bankers Argue Whether Automation Will Kill Jobs