Thursday, February 28, 2013
Marissa Mayer Is Wrong: Working From Home Can Make You More Productive. By Derek Thompson. The Atlantic, February 25, 2013.
The worst decision Marissa Mayer has made in her tenure as Yahoo CEO. By Vickie Elmer. Quartz, February 25, 2013.
The new Mommy Wars. By Joanne Bamberger. USA Today, February 25, 2013.
Get Off of Your Cloud. By Maureen Dowd. New York Times, February 26, 2013.
Marissa Mayer’s Job Is to Be CEO—Not to Make Life Easier for Working Moms. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. The Atlantic, February 28, 2013.
Making Teleworking Work. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, March 1, 2013.
Baby Boomer Divorces on Rise. Video. The Willis Report. Fox Business, February 28, 2013. Also find it here.
Boomer divorce: A costly retirement roadblock. By Rodney Brooks. USA Today, February 26, 2013.
Are Baby Boomers Still Pushing Up the Divorce Rate? By Robert Hughes, Jr. The Huffington Post, November 2, 2012.
Past 50 And Still Having Sex? You’re Not Alone. By Susan Krauss Whitbourne. The Huffington Post, February 28, 2013.
What Your Grandmother Didn’t Tell You About Her Sex Life. By Susan Krauss Whitbourne. Psychology Today, February 12, 2013.
Baby boomer divorce rate doubles. By Greg Clary and Athena Jones. CNN, June 27, 2012.
More Americans Rejecting Marriage in 50s and Beyond. By Rachel L. Swarns. New York Times, March 1, 2012.
Post-50 divorce rate doubled in 20 years. By Leslie Mann. Chicago Tribune, February 27, 2013.
Age gap: She’s old enough to be his . . .wife. By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz. Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2012.
Regular Biblical Archaeology Review contributor Mary Joan Winn Leith provides a fresh perspective on the language and imagery of the Book of Exodus by exploring ancient Egyptian iconography of power and authority. Through their acute awareness of Egyptian propaganda and art, the biblical writers and storytellers successfully inverted the very same imagery to illustrate Pharaoh’s ineptitude when confronted by Moses and the Israelite God Yahweh.
Running Time: 53 minutes.
The success of a book can sometimes tell you as much about the times as about the book itself. That may be the case with Why Nations Fail, which was published last year to great acclaim from reviewers and prize juries, and even compared to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
The book, by Professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is certainly erudite and interesting. But the excited reception for Why Nations Fail may also have something to do with the fact that its message is deeply reassuring to many in the west. I finished the book this weekend, surrounded by newspapers predicting that the US will, this week, slash its budget so deeply that it puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. Meanwhile, the Italian elections threaten to reignite the eurozone crisis.
But do not despair. Hurl the newspapers to one side – and take the long view. Based on a magpie-like assembly of evidence from many centuries, the authors of Why Nations Fail have concluded that, for all its difficulties, western-style democracy is the key to long-term prosperity. The professors argue that countries “such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed”. Professor Ian Morris, a reviewer, summarises their argument, thus: “It is freedom that makes the world rich.”
In part, the discrepancy between the newspapers and the thesis of Why Nations Fail is simply a question of time. The book deals with the evolution of societies over centuries. This week’s Italian elections and the US sequestration are, by comparison, mere stitches in the great tapestry of history.
But that is not quite reassurance enough. The political situations in Italy and the US have similar, and disturbing, long-term implications. They point to the tendency of modern democracies to pile up debt by making unaffordable spending promises to voters, that politicians then cannot wind back.
Investor confidence in Italy has been restored over the past year by a government led by Mario Monti, an unelected technocrat. But in the elections, Mr Monti looks likely to trail in an undistinguished fourth. His reforms won the approval of the markets – but not of the voters. Similarly, in the US, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission offered a more rational way of controlling government spending than the meat axe of the sequestration. But the technocrats’ solution has failed to pass the political test in Washington.
The uneasy sense that western democracy is not working very well is heightened by the counter-example of China’s rapid economic progress. Chinese success challenges the conventional political wisdom formed after the cold war about the superiority of democracy as an economic system. China’s ascent also appears to challenge the insistence of Messrs Acemoglu and Robinson that prosperity can be secured only by “inclusive” economic institutions, rooted in political pluralism.
The professors spend some time grappling with Chinese success in Why Nations Fail and conclude that “Chinese growth ... is just another form of growth under extractive political institutions, [and] unlikely to translate into sustained economic development.”
This seems a remarkably dismissive verdict on almost two generations of double-digit growth, which has dragged hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and transformed China into the second-largest economy in the world. Nonetheless, it reflects a strong tendency in American academia to talk down the rise of China – and to stress the enduring strengths of the US system.
All of this might not matter much if the arguments were confined to seminar rooms. But, in fact, versions of the argument made in Why Nations Fail dominate western political debate. No presidential election in the US is complete without all candidates paying obeisance to the idea that “freedom” is not just morally superior – it is also what makes America strong.
This unquestioning assumption of the superiority of the American way may, in fact, be part of what ails the US. I think that Why Nations Fail makes a strong case that, over the long term, there is a clear correlation between political freedom and economic success. But, in the US, a generalised attachment to liberty has somehow turned into an unquestioning veneration of the constitution that has become almost quasi-religious.
As a result, Americans may be unable really to address the fact that their political system is not working well. There is a similar problem in Europe, where the compulsion to pay homage to the European ideal stopped many politicians from asking hard, but necessary, questions about the continent’s single currency, the euro.
The Chinese system clearly has its own terrible flaws, including brutality and corrosive corruption. But it has also had the virtue of a radical pragmatism, captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
How the Arab Spring has exposed the myth of Arab statehood.
Why Aaron David Miller is lame, cliché, and offensive. By Issandr El Amrani. The Arabist, March 1, 2013.
More on Egypt and Morsi here.
And even in ethnically homogenous Egypt, religious identity defines the fault lines of the country’s turbulent political life. President Mohamed Morsy’s first allegiance isn’t to the notion of an inclusive nation, but to the Muslim Brotherhood’s conception of Islamist governance. And let’s be clear, membership in the Brotherhood isn’t like joining a health club: It requires years to gain entry, and it’s a way of life that demands a comprehensive worldview. Like the Eagles’ Hotel California, you can check out but you can never leave.
Evolution of Mom Dancing (with Jimmy Fallon and Michelle Obama). Video. Late Night, February 22, 2013. YouTube.
Can Someone Please Explain How This Michelle Malkin Video Is Funny? By David A. Graham. The Atlantic, February 26, 2013.
I’d like to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee. Foreign Policy, February 1, 2013.
Red States Leap Ahead. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, February 27, 2013.
America’s Growth Corridors: The Key to National Revival. By Joel Kotkin. Civic Report No. 75, February 2013. The Manhattan Institute. PDF.
Much of the discussion about American economic recovery and growth in 2012 focused on the usual suspects: regions on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and on the shores of the Great Lakes. But the best recent economic record, as well as the best prospects for future prosperity, are to be found elsewhere in the United States.
We have identified four regions of the country that we call “growth corridors.” What they lack in media attention they make up for in past performance and likely future success. Over the past decade-and, in some cases, far longer-these regions have created more jobs and gained more population than their counterparts along the ocean coasts or along the Great Lakes.
The four growth corridors are:
1. The Great Plains region, made up of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
2. The “Third Coast” stretch of counties whose shores abut the Gulf of Mexico and which range through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.
3. The “Intermountain West,” consisting of counties in the north of New Mexico and Arizona, parts of eastern California and western regions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, as well as the non-coastal eastern regions of Oregon and Washington and all of Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.
4. The “Southeast Manufacturing Belt” of counties in eastern Arkansas, all of Tennessee, and large swaths of Kentucky, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and southwestern Virginia.
These regions have different histories and different trajectories into the future, but they share certain key drivers of economic growth: lower costs (particularly for housing); better business climates; and population growth. Some have benefited from the strong global market for commodities, particularly food, natural gas, and oil. Others are expanding because of a resurgence in manufacturing in the United States.
In this report, we describe the growth corridors in some detail and explore what their success means for the country as a whole. Part 1 describes what the corridors are, in terms of geography, population, and history. Part 2 explains why they are succeeding while America's traditional economic powerhouses are growing at relatively anemic rates. Part 3 explains how the growth corridors are advancing, noting the key industries in each. Part 4 considers the contrast between the growth corridors and the rest of the nation and explains why the growth-corridor mix of culture and policies is crucial to the future success of the United States.
To be sure, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago will remain the country’s leading metropolitan agglomerations for the foreseeable future. But an important urban story of the coming decades will be the emergence of interior metropolitan areas such as Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, Tampa, Oklahoma City, and Omaha. On a smaller scale, fast-growing Lafayette (Louisiana), Baton Rouge, Midland (Texas), Sioux Falls (South Dakota), Fargo, and a host of other smaller cities will continue to expand. We may also witness the resurgence of New Orleans as a leading cultural and business center for the south and the Gulf Coast.
This ascendancy of the growth corridors follows one of the great principles of American history. The “most important effect of the frontier,” as Frederick Jackson Turner noted, was how it promoted democracy by spreading opportunity. The expanding frontier-then rural, now metropolitan-reinforces the fundamental individualism at the core of American culture.
Equally important, the corridors reveal the most immediate way to propel a broad growth trajectory for the entire United States. By restoring a strong growth path, as well as the optimism that accompanies it, the corridors could help bring about a resurgence whose benefits will extend far beyond their boundaries to touch the entire nation.
IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.
Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.
The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.
The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.
The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.
That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.
You can see America’s creeping Serrata in the growing social and, especially, educational chasm between those at the top and everyone else. At the bottom and in the middle, American society is fraying, and the children of these struggling families are lagging the rest of the world at school.
Economists point out that the woes of the middle class are in large part a consequence of globalization and technological change. Culture may also play a role. In his recent book on the white working class, the libertarian writer Charles Murray blames the hollowed-out middle for straying from the traditional family values and old-fashioned work ethic that he says prevail among the rich (whom he castigates, but only for allowing cultural relativism to prevail).
There is some truth in both arguments. But the 1 percent cannot evade its share of responsibility for the growing gulf in American society. Economic forces may be behind the rising inequality, but as Peter R. Orszag, President Obama’s former budget chief, told me, public policy has exacerbated rather than mitigated these trends.
Even as the winner-take-all economy has enriched those at the very top, their tax burden has lightened. Tolerance for high executive compensation has increased, even as the legal powers of unions have been weakened and an intellectual case against them has been relentlessly advanced by plutocrat-financed think tanks. In the 1950s, the marginal income tax rate for those at the top of the distribution soared above 90 percent, a figure that today makes even Democrats flinch. Meanwhile, of the 400 richest taxpayers in 2009, 6 paid no federal income tax at all, and 27 paid 10 percent or less. None paid more than 35 percent.
Historically, the United States has enjoyed higher social mobility than Europe, and both left and right have identified this economic openness as an essential source of the nation’s economic vigor. But several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. The Canadian economist Miles Corak has found that as income inequality increases, social mobility falls — a phenomenon Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has called the Great Gatsby Curve.
Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. This is the new Serrata. An elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, I interviewed Ruth Simmons, then the president of Brown. She was the first African-American to lead an Ivy League university and has served on the board of Goldman Sachs. Dr. Simmons, a Harvard-trained literature scholar, worked hard to make Brown more accessible to poor students, but when I asked whether it was time to abolish legacy admissions, the Ivy League’s own Book of Gold, she shrugged me off with a laugh: “No, I have a granddaughter. It’s not time yet.”
America’s Serrata also takes a more explicit form: the tilting of the economic rules in favor of those at the top. The crony capitalism of today’s oligarchs is far subtler than Venice’s. It works in two main ways.
The first is to channel the state’s scarce resources in their own direction. This is the absurdity of Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent” who are “dependent upon government.” The reality is that it is those at the top, particularly the tippy-top, of the economic pyramid who have been most effective at capturing government support — and at getting others to pay for it.
Exhibit A is the bipartisan, $700 billion rescue of Wall Street in 2008. Exhibit B is the crony recovery. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that 93 percent of the income gains from the 2009-10 recovery went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The top 0.01 percent captured 37 percent of these additional earnings, gaining an average of $4.2 million per household.
The second manifestation of crony capitalism is more direct: the tax perks, trade protections and government subsidies that companies and sectors secure for themselves. Corporate pork is a truly bipartisan dish: green energy companies and the health insurers have been winners in this administration, as oil and steel companies were under George W. Bush’s.
The impulse of the powerful to make themselves even more so should come as no surprise. Competition and a level playing field are good for us collectively, but they are a hardship for individual businesses. Warren E. Buffett knows this. “A truly great business must have an enduring ‘moat’ that protects excellent returns on invested capital,” he explained in his 2007 annual letter to investors. “Though capitalism’s ‘creative destruction’ is highly beneficial for society, it precludes investment certainty.” Microsoft attempted to dig its own moat by simply shutting out its competitors, until it was stopped by the courts. Even Apple, a huge beneficiary of the open-platform economy, couldn’t resist trying to impose its own inferior map app on buyers of the iPhone 5.
Businessmen like to style themselves as the defenders of the free market economy, but as Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, argued, “Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition.”
IN the early 19th century, the United States was one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet. “We have no paupers,” Thomas Jefferson boasted in an 1814 letter. “The great mass of our population is of laborers; our rich, who can live without labor, either manual or professional, being few, and of moderate wealth. Most of the laboring class possess property, cultivate their own lands, have families, and from the demand for their labor are enabled to exact from the rich and the competent such prices as enable them to be fed abundantly, clothed above mere decency, to labor moderately and raise their families.”
For Jefferson, this equality was at the heart of American exceptionalism: “Can any condition of society be more desirable than this?”
That all changed with industrialization. As Franklin D. Roosevelt argued in a 1932 address to the Commonwealth Club, the industrial revolution was accomplished thanks to “a group of financial titans, whose methods were not scrutinized with too much care, and who were honored in proportion as they produced the results, irrespective of the means they used.” America may have needed its robber barons; Roosevelt said the United States was right to accept “the bitter with the sweet.”
But as these titans amassed wealth and power, and as America ran out of free land on its frontier, the country faced the threat of a Serrata. As Roosevelt put it, “equality of opportunity as we have known it no longer exists.” Instead, “we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.”
It is no accident that in America today the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the Gilded Age. Now, as then, the titans are seeking an even greater political voice to match their economic power. Now, as then, the inevitable danger is that they will confuse their own self-interest with the common good. The irony of the political rise of the plutocrats is that, like Venice’s oligarchs, they threaten the system that created them.
President Barack Obama did a miserable job of making his own case last week. But speak to his supporters and the pitch is clear: The American middle class is being hollowed out; Obama’s self-appointed mission is to try to save it.
That is what I heard from Jeffrey Liebman, one of the president’s economic advisers, at a debate about the election I moderated at Columbia University on Monday. Liebman said the central difference between his candidate and Mitt Romney was the president’s view that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Instead, he believes policy needs to focus on the middle class. Economic growth, he said, should come from the middle and radiate out.
In a separate interview, Mark Gallogly, co-founder of the private equity and credit investment firm Centerbridge Partners and one of Obama’s earliest supporters on Wall Street, likewise emphasized the middle class. The president’s overriding concern, Gallogly told me, was with the workers who make $24,000 a year. Their lot is a pressing issue, Gallogly argued, because even before the recession there had been persistent downward pressure on middle-class wages. Yesterday’s middle-class job can land you among the working poor today.
You may be tempted to say that focusing on the middle class is about as distinctive as supporting motherhood. That is true enough. Two things stand apart in the Obama administration’s analysis of the problem.
One – and this is what has really riled the billionaire set – is Obama’s belief that making the world safe for American business doesn’t automatically translate into a rescue of the American middle class. The second, related idea is that the globalized, high-tech economy of the 21st century poses a particular challenge to the sorts of well-paid jobs that were the backbone of the U.S. middle class in the 20th.
These are two powerful assertions. What is missing is the connection between this domestic focus on the middle-class American worker and Obama’s foreign policy agenda.
At this stage in the campaign, it would probably be political malpractice to ask the president to venture into this esoteric land, appealingly dubbed “geo-economics” by its most wonkish explorers. So far only Tom Friedman of the New York Times has managed to explore this terrain and retain his popular following, and a lot of proper nouns and metaphors have been tortured in the process.
But if the president is serious about creating a 21st-century agenda for the American middle class, he needs to connect the dots between his domestic and foreign policy in a new way. (Judged on his own terms, this intellectual challenge is less pressing for Romney, who is sticking with the Reaganomics view that the way to aid the middle class is to support American job-creating businesses and individuals through lower taxes and less regulation.)
It isn’t hard to explain why a domestic middle-class jobs policy has to be part of Obama’s foreign policy. In a globalized economy, jobs no longer need a passport, but workers do. Creating jobs for your country’s workers is about much more than ensuring that the balance sheets of your country’s companies are strong, or stimulating domestic demand. It is about figuring out how your country’s workers fit into the global economy.
But while that problem has become obvious to a lot of us, the solutions are more elusive. In lieu of answers, here are a few starting points.
The first is to understand and accept that the old link between the prosperity of your nation’s companies and of your nation’s middle-class workers is much more fragile than it was in the past. The operative word is accept – the left scores political points but offers little substance when it berates chief executives or private equity investors for making profits even as they shrink their domestic workforce.
Corporations are not employment agencies, and judging them by that metric is a mistake. Likewise, while it can be fun for liberals to criticize business for going global, consider the alternative: Would America, or any other modern industrialized nation, really be better off if its companies failed to integrate themselves into the world economy?
A related idea is to understand that capital, and capitalists, really have become global. Here, again, the liberal temptation is to mock the billionaires who threaten to pull a John Galt and exit the national economy if they are mistreated. But as the example of Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder of Facebook who renounced his U.S. citizenship, shows, this threat has moved from Ayn Rand’s 1950s fantasy to real life.
Finally, to end on an encouraging note, champions of their own national middle class need to start seeing their problem as a global one. We are used to thinking about the traditional concerns of foreign policy – wars, disarmament, even energy and the environment – as international issues that require some degree of collective action. The hollowing out of the middle class is a problem common to all Western industrialized economies. Maybe we should work together to solve it.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Book review: “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” by Al Gore. By Chrystia Freeland. Washington Post, February 22, 2013.
Freeland, Technology . . .:
One way to divide people is into foxes and hedgehogs. Another is into those who think this time is different and those who believe there is never anything new under the sun.
The latter split can be a matter of temperament, of politics or even of religion. But today it is relevant for another, more urgent reason: It describes how people think about the most critical economic problem in the industrialized world today — the dearth of well- paying middle-class jobs.
The this-time-is-different school attributes a lot of what is happening to the technology revolution. That makes them an intellectually eclectic bunch. On one hand, they include wide-eyed enthusiasts who believe in human progress and in the transformational power of technology. But they also include grim hand-wringers who fear the unprecedented changes may bring unprecedented woes.
That combination of Pollyanna and Cassandra is perfectly embodied in the multifaceted mind of Al Gore. Gore is a longtime fan of the geeks, and in his post-political life he has very nearly become one of them, with his seat on the Apple board and senior partnership with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.
It thus comes as no surprise that in his new book, “The Future,” Gore foresees a world of “hyper-change” in which the technology revolution is “carrying us with it at a speed beyond our imagining toward ever newer technologically shaped realities that often appear, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, ‘indistinguishable from magic.’”
But Gore has also always been part Savonarola — remember the campaign of his estranged wife, Tipper, against music with “profane language” — and his conviction that this time is different has a sharp edge. In “The Future,” Gore admits that the Luddites, who feared that the Industrial Revolution would create structural unemployment, were wrong: “The new jobs that emerged in factories not only outnumbered those lost on farms but produced higher incomes, even as farms became far more productive and food prices sharply declined.”
Yet he warns that there is no guarantee history will repeat itself. In particular, Gore worries that thanks to the technology revolution, the traditional link between rising productivity and a rising standard of living for the middle class has been broken. He fears that severed link may be causing the economic slowdown in the developed economies: A weakened middle class lacks the spending power to drive growth.
One of the smartest academics studying this phenomenon is Erik Brynjolfsson, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Brynjolfsson, who co-wrote the new book “Race Against the Machine,” also believes the technology revolution is having a powerful and unprecedented impact.
“Most of the debate in Washington is really playing small ball and is missing the tectonic changes in the way the economy works, which are driven by technology,” he said recently. “This is the big story of our time, and it is going to accelerate over the next 10 years.”
Like Gore, Brynjolfsson thinks the canary in the coal mine is the decoupling of gains in productivity and in wages. “Productivity since 2000 has grown faster than in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s,” he said. “But starting in the late 1990s, we’ve had this decoupling of wages from productivity.”
Brynjolfsson believes this break is a historic watershed. “There have been big economic changes in the past, but productivity and jobs tracked each other pretty closely,” he said. “It is only since 1997 that they decoupled. There is no economic law that says they go together.”
That is a change with tremendous social and political implications. As Brynjolfsson put it: “A lot of economists felt that as long as productivity was growing, things would take care of themselves. That’s no longer true.”
This is indeed a watershed moment: Productivity and innovation, the focus of policymakers and business leaders, no longer guarantee widely shared prosperity. “Digital technologies are different in that they allow people with skills to replicate their talents to serve billions,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “There is really a drastic winner-take-all effect because every industry is becoming like the software industry.”
Classical economic theory isn’t entirely wrong. The danger isn’t — as it was easy to fear during the depths of the financial crisis — structural unemployment. The problem is what kind of jobs, at what kind of salaries, the shiny new technologically powered economy of the future will generate.
Lawrence H. Summers, the Harvard professor and former Treasury secretary, has a vivid way of describing the dystopian possibility. “As economists like to explain, the system will equilibrate at full employment,” Summers said in a public interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “But maybe the way it will equilibrate at full employment is there’ll be specialists at cleaning the shallow end and the deep end of rich people’s swimming pools. And that’s a problematic way for society to function.”
This is a personal problem — who wants to prepare their children for a life of deep- and shallow-end cleaning? It is also a political one. As Brynjolfsson points out, the technology revolution also has winners. The share they reap from the increase in productivity is greater than ever, and they might quite like a world of specialists in various depths of pool cleaning.
Campaign Address on Progressive Government at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. By Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR’s Commonwealth Club Address: Redefining Individualism, Adjudicating Greatness. By Davis W. Houck. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Fall 2004.
Chrystia Freeland on FDR’s Commonwealth Club Address. Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012, pp. 176-178.
So began, in American political life, the new day, the day of the individual against the system, the day in which individualism was made the great watchword of American life. The happiest of economic conditions made that day long and splendid. On the Western frontier, land was substantially free. No one, who did not shirk the task of earning a living, was entirely without opportunity to do so. Depressions could, and did, come and go; but they could not alter the fundamental fact that most of the people lived partly by selling their labor and partly by extracting their livelihood from the soil, so that starvation and dislocation were practically impossible. At the very worst there was always the possibility of climbing into a covered wagon and moving west where the untilled prairies afforded a haven for men to whom the East did not provide a place. So great were our natural resources that we could offer this relief not only to our own people, but to the distressed of all the world; we could invite immigration from Europe, and welcome it with open arms. Traditionally, when a depression came a new section of land was opened in the west; and even our temporary misfortune served our manifest destiny.
It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that a new force was released and a new dream created. The force was what is called the industrial revolution, the advance of steam and machinery and the rise of the forerunners of the modern industrial plant. The dream was the dream of an economic machine, able to raise the standard of living for everyone; to bring luxury within the reach of the humblest; to annihilate distance by steam power and later by electricity, and to release everyone from the drudgery of the heaviest manual toil. It was to be expected that this would necessarily affect Government. Heretofore, Government had merely been called upon to produce conditions within which people could live happily, labor peacefully, and rest secure. Now it was called upon to aid in the consummation of this new dream. There was, however, a shadow over the dream. To be made real, it required use of the talents of men of tremendous will and tremendous ambition, since by no other force could the problems of financing and engineering and new developments be brought to a consummation.
So manifest were the advantages of the machine age, however, that the United States fearlessly, cheerfully, and, I think, rightly, accepted the bitter with the sweet. It was thought that no price was too high to pay for the advantages which we could draw from a finished industrial system. This history of the last half century is accordingly in large measure a history of a group of financial Titans, whose methods were not scrutinized with too much care, and who were honored in proportion as they produced the results, irrespective of the means they used. The financiers who pushed the railroads to the Pacific were always ruthless, often wasteful, and frequently corrupt; but they did build railroads, and we have them today. It has been estimated that the American investor paid for the American railway system more than three times over in the process; but despite this fact the net advantage was to the United States. As long as we had free land; as long as population was growing by leaps and bounds; as long as our industrial plants were insufficient to supply our own needs, society chose to give the ambitious man free play and unlimited reward provided only that he produced the economic plant so much desired.
72 is the new 30: Scientists claim healthcare and medicine extends keep us younger for longer. By Anna Hodgekiss and Martin Robinson. Daily Mail, February 26, 2013.
Human mortality improvement in evolutionary context. By Oskar Burger, Annette Baudisch, James W. Vaupel. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Early Edition, October 15, 2012. PDF.
Life expectancy is increasing in most countries and has exceeded 80 in several, as low-mortality nations continue to make progress in averting deaths. The health and economic implications of mortality reduction have been given substantial attention, but the observed malleability of human mortality has not been placed in a broad evolutionary context. We quantify the rate and amount of mortality reduction by comparing a variety of human populations to the evolved human mortality profile, here estimated as the average mortality pattern for ethnographically observed hunter-gatherers. We show that human mortality has decreased so substantially that the difference between hunter-gatherers and today’s lowest mortality populations is greater than the difference between hunter-gatherers and wild chimpanzees. The bulk of this mortality reduction has occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the roughly 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. Moreover, mortality improvement in humans is on par with or greater than the reductions in mortality in other species achieved by laboratory selection experiments and endocrine pathway mutations. This observed plasticity in age-specific risk of death is at odds with conventional theories of aging.
More on Egypt and Morsi here.
Never has Egypt been so close to civil war and today it seems that only the army can prevent the worse from happening.
The Muslim Brothers and the opposition are both doing their utmost to bring the army to their side, with little success so far: Field Marshal Abd el-Fattah El-Sisi, the defense minister, never loses an opportunity to state that the army is taking no part in the political struggle and devotes its energy to protecting the country – while adding that it will not let it plunge into chaos. The opposition, in contrast, feels that only the army can bring back order – the way they want. During last Friday’s demonstrations people called on the army to “Get out of the barracks and make President Mohamed Morsi resign and call for new presidential elections.”
That state of affairs leaves the Brotherhood and Morsi with mixed feelings. In the course of the past few weeks they have became painfully aware of the fact that the army will not protect the regime should it lose its legitimacy and try to resort to force to stay in power. Last week the rumor that Morsi intended to fire the defense minister spread like wildfire, prompting an “unnamed military source” to warn that it would be “political suicide” for the president since the army – soldiers and officers alike – are angry with the regime. One of the president’s representatives hastened to placate army commanders and the army in turn distanced itself from the “unnamed source.”
Three days later Morsi declared that he had full confidence in the army and “the deepest appreciation” for the defense minister; the declaration was duly published in the media next to a photo of El- Sisi sitting opposite Morsi in the president’s office. The rumor may have been a trial balloon launched by the Brothers who wanted to gauge what kind of reaction could be expected to such a radical move. However the incident can also be seen as part of a wider series of clashes between the army and the Brotherhood.
Morsi first became aware of the problem last November during the violent demonstrations led by the opposition to protest the new Islamic constitution and the presidential declaration granting the president legislative power and full immunity for his decisions.
The army issued a call for dialogue between “both sides” while stressing “the legitimacy of the people.”
Suddenly the army was acting as an independent force distinct from the regime while asserting that legitimacy was vested in the people and not in the rulers, even though they had been democratically elected in free elections. There were some hasty – and secret – talks and the army shelved its call. However the Brothers will not forget that the army did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the elected president.
Especially since the Port Said riots last month between opposing demonstrators and security forces which leaving 60 dead, El-Sisi stated that the army was ready to intervene “to prevent the collapse of the country should no political solution be found.” Shortly afterward El-Sisi was quoted as allegedly having said that he would not let the Muslim Brotherhood take over the army.
There was an angry reaction from the Brotherhood and its Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie condemned “the widespread corruption of the army.” It was the turn of the army to protest and Badie apologized.
Maj.-Gen. Sedki Sobhi, commander in chief of the army, added fuel to the fire by saying that “the army does not intervene in politics but it will take to the streets if the people need it.” Deeds followed words.
When Morsi declared a state of emergency in the Suez canal zone following the Port Said clashes and imposed a curfew, the army refused to supervise it and Morsi had no choice but to cancel the state of emergency.
El-Sisi took Morsi by surprise and embarrassed him greatly by issuing on December 23, 2012 a ministerial decree turning the eastern border of Egypt with Israel and the Gaza Strip into a closed military zone five km. deep, Rafah city excluded.
Selling or renting land there was forbidden because it was a strategic area of military importance. The decree was issued days after the Egyptian government, in an attempt to promote better relations with Sinai Beduin and improve their lot, had informed them that they could sell or rent land in the peninsula.
El-Sisi had acted in order to tighten control over the border zone where the army is trying to prevent infiltration of jihadi operatives into Egypt from Gaza, and attacks on Israel from the Egyptian side while keeping a close watch on the contraband tunnels. However, he had apparently “forgotten” to consult with the president when he issued his decree – something well within his ministerial prerogatives.
The decree led to a renewed wave of anger from the Beduin who are threatening a civil disobedience campaign if it is not rescinded. The army has entered into negotiations with them with no result so far, and the situation remains volatile in the extreme.
Then it became known that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been meeting from time to time to discuss the situation in the country – without informing the president who is officially the head of the council. The meetings were described as “informal” which does not make them more palatable to Morsi.
Tensions between the army and the Brotherhood are a source of deep concern for the regime. Morsi had gotten rid of the former army commanders swiftly and unexpectedly a few weeks after his election, naming in their stead El-Sisi and Sobhi who were seen as devout Muslims; it was rumored that El-Sisi was a member of the Brotherhood.
However it soon transpired that though his wife wears the veil, El-Sisi is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, high-ranking elements in the Justice and Freedom Party tried to have him fired and the official party paper ignored him completely for weeks until Morsi himself explained to the Brotherhood that there was no use trying to reverse the situation.
However, Muslim Brothers are suddenly remembering that the army has always been against their movement – from Nasser to Mubarak – and that it was Islamic terrorists raised on their doctrine who assassinated Sadat.
There are widespread rumors to the effect that the Brotherhood is forming a clandestine militia while setting up listening posts to monitor the army, to be ready to confront the army should it become necessary.
And while the clash between the regime and the opposition shows no signs of abating, the president has called for parliamentary elections to be held over an unprecedented period of two months starting in late April.
Morsi will do all he can to achieve the complete takeover of the country before the new parliament can be convened in July. The opposition is up in arms threatening to boycott the elections if a new national unity government is not formed to ensure that they are free and fair, the large Coptic minority is outraged since polling will be held on their holy Easter week – and the country’s economy is still spiraling out of control.
What will the army do, if anything? On the one hand, the new constitution grants it powers beyond its wildest dreams. On the other hand, the army, for so long the symbol of Egypt’s greatness, cannot remain indifferent to the country’s slow degradation.
This week, more than two months after the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Congress is finally set to tackle gun-control legislation.
Many proposed measures, such as expanded background checks and stronger penalties for those who act as “fronts” to buy guns for criminals, make eminent sense. But two things need to be recognized: One, these measures probably won’t do much to reduce gun crime, or even mass shootings. And two, reasonable gun control can only succeed if its advocates show respect for law-abiding gun owners, their rights and their culture.
Last month, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, novelist and literary critic Walter Kirn published a piece in The New Republic, the leading magazine of liberal opinion, titled “What Gun Owners Really Want.” Kirn disclosed that he grew up with guns and has owned them as an adult, at least once using a weapon to scare off a potential attacker and defend himself and his family. He also wrote about coming to support the need for more regulation, particularly for military-style firearms. His plea to readers was to stop demonizing responsible gun owners.
Yet the response on the magazine’s website was far from understanding. Some mocked gun owners as driven by “fear of death” at the hands of criminals or state tyranny – as if gun control advocacy did not rely on fear of death by firearms. Others questioned the truthfulness of Kirn’s personal narrative.
Around the same time, another piece in The New Republic admitted that most gun control legislation under consideration – including a renewed assault weapon ban – would barely make a dent in gun violence. But this, author Bill Scher wrote, was not important: While we don’t know yet what measures would work, we must affirm “the principle that it is our government’s responsibility to keep attacking the problem of death by firearms until we’re down to the low levels achieved by the rest of the developed world.”
Such rhetoric rightly alarms gun owners. The government, we’re told, can experiment indefinitely with restrictions in pursuit of what may be a utopian goal, considering that non-gun violence rates in the United States are also higher than in most developed countries, and that the correlation between gun possession and gun violence is by no means simple. (Switzerland and Norway have roughly half the gun ownership rate of the United States but about one-eighth the murder rate.)
Too many anti-gun liberals see the gun-owning culture as a baffling, repulsive, uniquely American barbarism. They are also inclined to treat gun owners as ignorant paranoid rednecks who don't know what's good for them – who think, for instance, that they need a handgun for protection but ignore the fact that it's far more likely to put them and their loved ones in danger of murder or suicide.
Of course, these comparisons leave out plenty of relevant facts: that most defensive uses of guns do not include actually shooting an attacker; that many gun murders between people who know each other involve criminals; or that the United States has fairly low suicide rates compared to many countries with strict gun regulations and few guns in civilian hands, such as Hungary or Japan.
When gun control advocates make it clear that they regard the ownership of guns – especially handguns – as stupid, unnecessary and dangerous, their assurances that they only want to promote reasonable regulations and have no wish to ban or confiscate guns ring hollow.
Any gun control debate must start with the acknowledgment that disarming America, even if it were desirable, is impossible, and that the concerns of gun owners must be taken into account. Then, perhaps, we can start moving forward.
When Pharaohs Ruled Jerusalem. By Peter van der Veen. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (March/April 2013).
When Egyptian Pharaohs Ruled Bronze Age Jerusalem. By Noah Wiener. Bible History Daily, February 25, 2013.
What’s an Egyptian Temple Doing in Jerusalem? By Gabriel Barkay. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 26, No. 3 (May/June 2000). Also find it here.
A Late Bronze Age Temple in Jerusalem? By Gabriel Barkay. Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 46, No. 1/2 (1996).
Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem? By Yigal Levin. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 38, No. 4 (July/August 2012).
van der Veen:
Perhaps our most exciting find was recovered in Germany. One day in 2006, I received a telephone call from my colleague Alexander Schick. The previous day he had seen something quite remarkable on a bookshelf in the office of a senior scholar from northern Germany (who prefers to remain anonymous), namely the upper body of a statue of an Egyptian queen made of coarsely grained red granite, some 14 inches high.
How in the world did it get to Germany? In the 1920s, when Palestine was under the British Mandate, the father-in-law of the scholar on whose bookshelf the statue stood had served the German Lutheran church in an ecclesiastical capacity in Jerusalem. At that time some Arab workmen discovered the statue in the gravel underneath the road they were paving. As the clergyman’s house was nearest to the place of the statue’s discovery, it was brought to the clergyman, and it has remained in the family’s possession ever since.
The red granite statue has now been fully studied by Egyptologist Simone Burger-Robin of Brussels, an expert in Ramesside statuary, who confirms that it definitely depicts a queen. Although the face is damaged, the other details are very clear. The royal lady wears a heavy wig with elaborate beading, originally mounted by a vulture crown. Her dress is close fitting with a beaded collar. She holds a lotus scepter in her left hand. Although no inscription remains on the statue, Burger-Robin concludes from its style that the provenance most likely falls within the reign of Ramesses II or of his son Merneptah (c. 1280–1200 B.C.E.). This date is fully concordant with the other finds from Jerusalem.
While male pharaonic statues are rare in Israel, queens’ statues are almost unknown. The only other one found in the entire southern Levant (it was found in a survey near Ashdod, in a coastal area where the Egyptians were especially active) includes a small inscribed fragment; she is apparently the daughter of Ramesses II.
. . . . . . . . . .
All these finds seem to confirm American archaeologist Carolyn Higginbotham’s summary of the situation. The Ramesside pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty used local vassal rulers to run daily affairs in Jerusalem, as had their Amarna-period predecessors of the 18th Dynasty, but the pharaohs also sent out royal envoys to gather taxes and watch over the provinces.
From the next period—just prior to David’s conquest of Jerusalem in about 1000 B.C.E.—we have almost no evidence of an Egyptian presence here—perhaps a few sherds at most.
The tenth-century B.C.E. pharaohs who were contemporaries of Solomon and his son Rehoboam, however, seem to have reasserted their age-old claim on Jerusalem, now firmly in Israelite hands. As the Bible tells us, Pharaoh Shishak sent his army north in about 925 B.C.E., in year 5 of the reign of King Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25). This is substantiated by Egyptian records: The Biblical Shishak, believed by most scholars to be the Libyan Pharaoh Sheshonq referred to in Egyptian texts, mounted a major attack into Canaan at this time. Although the Bible says he attacked Jerusalem, the Egyptian account does not include Jerusalem among the named cities he conquered. This may be because the name Jerusalem has not survived in the partially preserved Egyptian account. In any event, Sheshonq appears to have passed through the Jerusalem area when his army crossed over to the Jordan Valley.
In short, the Egyptians apparently ruled the area in the period before the Israelites consolidated their grip on the central highlands during Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.). The evidence of Egyptian dominance seems to have ended, however, at the time the Israelites fully settled the land in this period. But the Egyptians reasserted their power again in about 925 B.C.E. with Shishak/Sheshonq’s invasion of Canaan.
This certainly makes me wonder: Was David able to conquer Jerusalem (in about 1000 B.C.E.) because it was defended only by the Jebusite/Canaanites, without any Egyptian presence in the city?
Of course the absence of evidence—either textual or archaeological—of an Egyptian presence in Jerusalem in the period just before David’s conquest of the city or during his reign may be accidental. Or it may not be.