Saturday, May 21, 2016

Today’s Immigrants are Tomorrow’s American Success Stories

During my career in food service I observed immigrants from all over the world coming to America. Wave after wave from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. And because the food business is the fastest place to find a job, that's where many of them first went to work. My observation was that among the first to arrive -- often refugees, not just migrants (and there is a difference) -- were many who were more ambitious or motivated than those who came later. Not always, but sometimes, they either came with money or had access to financial support from the places they left behind. This link reminds me of many examples. 

Migrants fleeing war in the Middle East have brought a vibrant culture and a trade revival to Sweden’s third city

Employee Said Mahmoud adds chicken to the
lunch buffet at Jasmin Alsham restaurant in
Malmö. Photo: Malin Palm for the Observer
When Fisal Abo Karaa stepped off the train in Malmö’s central station this time last year, exhausted after a long journey by train and boat, he looked like any other victim of Syria’s terrible civil war. It wasn’t until April, when Malmö’s main shopping street was filled with the sound of Syrian bagpipes, drums and dancing that he made his presence felt. The opening of Jasmin Alsham, his new restaurant, was the most visible sign yet of an unexpected injection of Syrian money hitting Sweden’s third city. Abo Karaa and his partners have invested a rumoured five million Swedish kronor (£400,000) converting what was once a Pizza Hut into a replica Damascene house. It is one of five Syrian restaurants to have opened in less than a year. “There are people saying that the Syrians have come and want to buy up everything,” says Ibrahim, a hairdresser and member of the Nahawand shisha smoking club, a meeting place for the city’s established Arab businessmen.
“There’s many, many Syrian people who want to move money to Sweden,” says Maher Alkhatib, from Damascus, who opened a restaurant last year. “I know people in the Emirates, they are asking me, ‘Find a good project so we can invest money’.” Abo Karaa’s family owned four factories in Homs exporting paper tissues all over the Arab world. “We have lost in Syria millions of dollars, and many assets,” his nephew Mohammed says.

Even while being trained to run a cheese store (my first real job) the one where I was going was being managed by a bright young couple from Europe, a French business student taking a break from grad school and his girlfriend. Their visas were ending, the owner needed a more permanent arrangement and I was a freshly-minted college graduate needing employment. Little did I know it would be the start of a forty-year career in the food business. (For the record, no one goes into the food business deliberately unless their family owns the business or they are among the small percentage of success stories, but that is a discussion for another time.)
I think most Americans have no idea how important immigrants are, not only to our economy but to others often receiving a significant part of their earnings. My own limited experience has included more immigrants than most and in most cases I have seen an impressive degree of entrepreneurship and creativity. My favorite is a Cambodian man who started as a dishwasher in the Seventies and became a sought-after sushi chef charging for coaching clinics and operating his own restaurant, like the example above. 
While I was still in the cheese business, one of my roommates was a young Korean who appeared on an Atlanta sidewalk one evening, the victim of a scam that brought him to America with the promise of what turned out to be a non-existent opportunity. Within a year he had got a job repairing business machines, bought a car and soon opened his own store repairing and retailing business machines. Too often we fail to appreciate that those we may imagine are at the bottom of the ladder are not important because they are doing menial jobs. But the reality is often that they are seriously under-employed for a variety of reasons, including language challenges and foreign educational credentials not recognized in America. In a few cases they come from well-established families with more assets than we may know, but they have come to America in search of different or better opportunities.
I went from retail/franchising imported cheese & wine to fast food. It became clear that my family would soon fall apart in that environment so I took a deep cut in earnings to start over -- learning the cafeteria business as (yet again) a “manager trainee” for the next four years. So yes, I personally experienced and witnessed the exploitation which occurs when those exempt from FLSA regulations are stretched past what is right. And yes, the president’s executive order raising the exemption threshold last week was a long-overdue, much-needed change for the better. 
I can tell endless stories about immigrant workers. A young man from Bangladesh working as a dining room attendant in my cafeteria fell in love with a young Mexican girl and got married. Before a year had passed, they had bought a small lunch business selling wings and hamburgers which she was running while he continued a year or two more earning tips in my dining room which were invested in their new enterprise. An older man who was like a "Daddy" to my dishroom staff from time to time returned to Mexico to check on things. He was practically illiterate and had to use a translator to communicate with me, but in his home town he was a landlord of two or three business properties sending rent to his family there.
My neighborhood includes a Mexican family that was here before we arrived fourteen years ago. They have a lovely, well-kept house and have always paid dues to the Homeowners Association. With a house full of kids and two or three cars, they are supported by an auto repair business operated by the father and his oldest son.
Among my staff before I retired were employees from Haiti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Pakistan. I have watched wave after wave of immigrants coming into the country for my whole working life. The food business is very labor-intensive and it is no accident that when all else fails, someone from another country can always fall back on opening a restaurant selling whatever cuisine they know. Even if they know nothing else, they can always cook the food they grew up eating. (Which is partly why the food business is so competitive.)
I could fill pages with stories like these. But the point is that Americans disregard immigrants (or worse, malign them) at their peril.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wealth and Income Gap

This post started in January (2016) and has been amended several times since. The notion of guaranteed basic income appears to be getting traction, so new links will now be added here at the top for quicker access. The old material is marked below.

Update May 19, 2016

Links are now coming faster than I can note in précis form.  Here are two more:

May 18, 2016 
Update May 2, 2016

A Basic Income Should Be the Next Big Thing
MAY 2, 2016
By  Paula Dwyer

Now and then a worthy economic proposal comes along that seems as politically unattainable as it is sensible. Then, on closer inspection, you see that it's more than a policy-wonk's fantasy. And you wonder whether it could actually prevail.

This may be happening with the concept of a universal basic income. The notion that government should guarantee every citizen an annual stipend of, say, $10,000 -- no strings attached, no questions asked -- is being studied by politicians, economists and policy experts worldwide.

Think of it as Social Security for all. In the social democracies of Europe, Canada and South America, experiments are planned or underway. In the U.S., it's still little more than a concept -- one that appears to have more conservative backers than liberal ones. 

Bernie Sanders says he's "sympathetic" to the theory behind a universal basic income but stops well short of advocating it. Hillary Clinton seems even less enthusiastic. By contrast, conservative economists, politicians and think-tank scholars are not as hesitant. Marco Rubio, for example, proposed the beginnings of a basic income in his 2015 tax plan.

The rest of the world is taking the lead. 

Switzerland will hold a June 5 referendum on whether to give every adult citizen 2,500 Swiss francs (about $2,600) a month. Ontario, Canada, will conduct an experiment with a basic income later this year. The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands is conducting a pilot program, and Finland is planning a two-year trial. A British proposal is gathering interest. In May, a nonprofit group will start giving 6,000 Kenyans a guaranteed income for at least a decade and follow the results.

Basic-income proposals come in many varieties, and have myriad rationales.

Some progressives see it as the ultimate expression of what a developed economy can achieve: a way to lessen poverty and inequality, and ease the pain of job loss and economic stagnation. But in the U.S., many liberals see it as naive and a distraction from more practical priorities, such as a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.

For conservatives, the attraction is smaller government. Dozens of social-welfare programs now costing U.S. taxpayers about $1 trillion a year could be folded into a basic-income program, they argue.

With no eligibility criteria or enforcement needed, administrative costs would be bare-bones. Waste, fraud and abuse would be greatly reduced, the argument goes, if not close to zero.

In the 1960s, a basic income was part of the mainstream political discussion. President Richard Nixon even proposed an income floor, based on ideas developed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a domestic-policy adviser. The proposal died in part because of liberal opposition to a work requirement and obstruction by a well-organized welfare lobby, Moynihan would later write.

The earned-income tax credit, a form of basic income, took its place, but only to supplement the earnings of the working poor. The tax credit was first proposed in 1962 by conservative economist Milton Friedman. One of his aims was to end the "earnings cliff," in which government aid disappears once income exceeds a cap. Such a limit discourages recipients from working, a consequence that keeps them poor and dependent.

The tax credit is still around and widely considered an effective anti-poverty program, but the earnings-cliff issue has only gotten worse: The U.S. now has 80-plus low-income programs, each with its own eligibility rules and earnings caps.

The idea of a universal basic income is enjoying a renaissance today, not only in Washington think tanks but in Silicon Valley, as my Bloomberg View colleague, Justin Fox, has written. Y Combinator, a venture-capital firm, is launching a five-year research project, for example. The goal is to give a randomly selected group of people a monthly check to see if they sit around and play video games or create economic value.

Why does Silicon Valley care? It can see the role of technology in accelerating job losses in the U.S. Two Oxford University professors wrote recently that about 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation. If that happens, the economy would shrink, and fewer and fewer people would be able to buy the goods that Silicon Valley creates.

The fear that people with a guaranteed basic income would become slackers may be unfounded. One economist who studied trials conducted in the 1970s in Canada found the opposite: Recipients were healthier and finished high school at higher rates. Adults with full-time jobs worked the same number of hours with one exception: Women took off more time after having a baby, an utterly reasonable outcome.

Yes, the costs of guaranteeing 322 million Americans $10,000 a year would be prohibitive -- a whopping $3.2 trillion a year.

But by excluding 45 million retirees who already receive a basic income through Social Security, the cost falls to $2.7 trillion. And if the benefit is phased out for households earning more than $100,000 (that would be 20 percent of the U.S.'s 115 million households, or about 70 million people, assuming three to a household), the cost declines to about $2 trillion. You could confine the program to adults and shrink the price tag even more, possibly to as low as $1.5 trillion.

Now we're getting close to the $1 trillion cost of all those unemployment checks, tax credits, food stamps, housing vouchers and a myriad other means-tested benefits that a basic income could supplant.

Here is where liberals start to get queasy. They don't like that a basic income would replace the safety net, even when assured that some programs, including education, job training and entitlements like Medicare, would be maintained. They worry that the civil servants who now run programs would be laid off. And they fear that a basic income would, in the end, be less than what many people get when all the federal government's cash and social-service programs are combined.

Those are valid concerns. But as other countries test the idea and seek improvements in their social-welfare systems, will it make sense for the U.S. to maintain an expensive crazy-quilt of programs, many of which have not lifted people out of poverty and dependence? A Social-Security-for-all approach might not seem like such a fantasy after all. 

Update April 14:
A charity's radical experiment: giving 6,000 Kenyans a guaranteed basic income for a decade
Updated by Dylan Matthews on April 14, 2016
GiveDirectly, a charity that gives money directly to poor people in Kenya and Uganda, is launching a big new project: a basic income.A basic income — also called a universal basic income (UBI), 
guaranteed minimum income, citizens' dividend, demogrant, etc. — is a regular payment to a group of people just for being alive. Normally, basic income proposals call for the payments to be administered by the government, but there's nothing in principle stopping a nonprofit like GiveDirectly from doing it. 
So it's giving the policy a shot, and will give about 6,000 people in Kenya a guaranteed flow of cash for the next 10 years or more. In doing so, GiveDirectly is testing out an idea that's rapidly gaining interest inFinland, Silicon Valley, and Ontario, Canada, and could radically transform welfare policy in both rich and poor countries in the future. 
More than that, it's creating what is perhaps the first true universal basic income in recorded history. There have been previous policies that are at least somewhat like this. But GiveDirectly's introduction of a universal payment for whole villages over a long, long period, set at a level of basic subsistence, is truly historic.

[More at the link...]

When Robots Take Our Jobs, Should Everyone Still Get a Paycheck?
A concept called universal basic income is gaining traction as a way to help people deal with machines taking over the job market
By Randy Rieland ( March 21, 2016

There’s nothing new about worrying that machines will take our jobs. More than 200 years ago, Luddites started taking sledgehammers to weaving machines.

But tech anxiety got a fresh jolt last month when the White House sent out a Council of Economic Advisers report including a projection that people making less than $20 an hour have an 83 percent chance of eventually losing their jobs to a robot. The odds for those earning up to $40 an hour are more than 30 percent.

Not that most Americans would find that very surprising. According to a Pew Internet Survey released last week, more than two-thirds of Americans think that within 50 years, most jobs will be done by robots or computers—although the vast majority conveniently thought that won’t happen with their own jobs.

No matter how this plays out, it’s pretty clear that machines will be handling more and more work, particularly now that increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence is enabling them to take on mental tasks too. And that is raising a big question: When machines dominate the work world, what are all the people they replace going to do for money?

Checks for everyone

Remarkably, one idea starting to gain traction is known as universal basic income (UBI). It’s a simple, if somewhat radical concept—each citizen of a country would receive a monthly check from the government, no matter how much money you make and without any strings attached. You wouldn’t have to meet any conditions to qualify, you wouldn’t have to show you were looking for a job, you wouldn’t face any restrictions on how you spent the money.

Plenty of people think this is a bad idea, or at least a seriously unbaked one. Critics say all that easy money could result in a nation of game-playing, binge-watching freeloaders. But others counter that if there’s a tech takeover of the job market, society will need a safety blanket, not a net. They also posit that those who don’t have to take just any job to cover basic expenses may be able to do things that are more fulfilling or perhaps more beneficial to society.

The truth is that no one knows how people will respond. But there’s a growing consensus that it’s time to start finding out. Next year, government researchers in Finland will begin a two-year study, in which up to 100,000 Finns will receive as much as 1,000 euros a month, without any conditions. The scientists running the experiment will track how often the subjects use public services, such as health clinics, and attempt to get a sense of how much they really want to work. The researchers will also try to determine if a monthly, strings-free check lets people lead happier lives.

Several Dutch cities are considering their own UBI experiments for this year and a yet unchosen community in the Canadian province of Ontario will follow suit this fall. Plus, in June, Swiss voters will be weighing in on a proposal to pay every adult in the country the equivalent of $2,500 a month.

Dregs or entrepreneurs?

The response to UBI in the U.S. has been mixed at best, with much of the enthusiasm for exploring the concept coming from Silicon Valley. One of its biggest proponents has been Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, the firm that has helped startups such as Reddit, Airbnb and Dropbox hook up with investors.

In late January, Altman announced that Y Combinator will be doing its own research—specifically a five-year project in which a random group of people “who are driven and talented, but come from poor backgrounds” will be provided with a basic income.

“I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale,” Altman wrote in his blog on the Y Combinator site.

So, says Altman, why not find out now if a regular paycheck from the government turns people into dregs or makes them more entrepreneurial, whether it boosts their spirits or diminishes them?

And, in the end, will people be happier if they don’t need to get a job to survive?

“Fifty years from now,” wrote Altman, “I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.”

[Six jobs at the link arranged as a slide show. One reason I blog is to avoid the advertisements and clickbait infesting the Web, but the reader is welcome to it.] 

Economists tested 7 welfare programs to see if they made people lazy. They didn't.
Updated by Dylan Matthews
November 20, 2015
For as long as there have been government programs designed to help the poor, there have been critics insisting that helping the poor will keep them from working. But the evidence for this proposition has always been rather weak. 
And a recent study from MIT and Harvard economists makes the case even weaker. Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel Kreindler, and Benjamin Olken reanalyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found "no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work." Attacking welfare recipients as lazy is easy rhetoric, but when you actually test the proposition scientifically, it doesn't hold up. 
The programs covered in the study have a pretty wide geographic spread. There are four in Latin America (two in Mexico, one each in Nicaragua and Honduras), two in Southeast Asia (Philippines and Indonesia), and one in Morocco. 
Most of the programs the study analyzes are what's known as "conditional cash transfers" (CCTs), where households receive help on the condition that they, say, have their kids attend school, or get them vaccinated. The idea is both to help poor people and to use the aid as a lever with which to ensure kids are getting educated and receiving health services. CCTs first caught on in Latin America, so it makes sense that most of the programs analyzed in the paper are from countries in that region. But the study also includes a Mexican program that provided a $13-a-month unconditional cash transfer to families in poor regions.
[Snip here. More at the link.]
All of the above evidence concerns the developing world. But it's worth being skeptical about welfare queen claims in rich countries as well. For one thing, the biggest program the US currently runs for prime-age poor adults is the earned income tax credit. There's a substantial body of evidence showing that the EITC encourages work, usually by pulling single parents into the workforce. That lets it have an anti-poverty impact beyond the actual cash that the tax credit provides to families. 
But even unrestricted cash programs aren't likely to have a major effect on work in rich countries. A number of studies in the US in the 1970s examined "negative income tax" programs, where a set sample of poor households received cash grants whose size shrunk as the households earned more money through their jobs. The studies found very mild declines in work, largely due to people taking longer to find a good job while unemployed and spending longer in school. Even those estimates were exaggerated by participants underreporting the amount of work they were doing, perhaps to get bigger checks; when researchers examined administrative data, rather than survey responses, they found barely any effect on work at all. 
A much better experiment in Canada, where an entire town got a guaranteed income by way of a negative income tax, found even milder reductions in work, and then only with new mothers (who spent longer at home with their newborns) and teenagers. 
There's no doubt that poorly designed social programs can deter work. Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the pre–welfare reform welfare program, was found to decrease hours worked by 10 to 50 percent among recipients; that likely has something to do with the fact that AFDC benefits were taken away at a rate of 100 percent, so every dollar earned on the job was a dollar not received from AFDC. Who would work under that condition? 
But most welfare programs are better than AFDC. Whether they're in the US or in developing countries, they don't tend to keep people from working.

In response to a Krugman column about wealth and inequality this came pouring out in a Facebook  comment before I could stop. This is the money quote from Krugman's column...
But the real question, in any case, is whether we can redistribute some of the income currently going to the elite few to other purposes without crippling economic progress.
He then tries to soften the impact of the r-word to calm the libertarian crowd, but his reassurance comes across as thin gruel to those for whom redistribution is among the deadliest of sins.

The challenge of inequality has been with mankind so long that every epoch has had to find a different way to accommodate the reality. Even in biblical times there were Old Testament injunctions to take care of widows and orphans, farmers were expected to leave enough grain behind during the harvest so that the famous "gleaners" would have something to glean. There was a scheduled Year of Jubilee during which debts would be forgiven and again, injunctions not to deliberately run up debts in anticipation of that adjustment.

Since forever there was a symbiotic relationship between the powers that protected everybody and the lower classes (peasants, vassals, etc.) without whom the whole structure of society could not hold together. The lower classes not only did the main work of feeding not only themselves but the landowners for whom they toiled, not to mention furnishing cannon fodder for the wars that everybody presumed were as much a part of life as taxes and the seasons of the year.

The industrial revolution upset those old systems based on land ownership, replacing them with production, processing and distribution systems not necessarily land-based. Marx noticed that the landlord class morphed into the owners of production, which thanks also to more elaborate monetary and accounting systems put them into something like a symbiotic relationship with workers, but this new model made cooperation less important than productivity. At the same time distribution systems meant competition, a new wrinkle in the scheme of things. Colonialism put trade and commerce on steroids and workers became "labor" -- another journal entry for accountants and lawyers to manage instead of an assembly of living people -- no longer bound by any symbiotic relationship with the employers for whom they worked.

Notice how *cooperation* morphed into *corporation*.

This is getting wordy so I will cut to the chase. Thanks to technology, work by humans is rapidly becoming obsolete. Beginning with those early inventions -- sewing machine, steam engine, cotton gin, erc. -- every elementary school student knows the drill -- little by little the need for human labor began to diminish. The pace of progress has been exponentially faster with the passing of time and progress, and mankind will soon reach a point where a new symbiosis is no longer optional. The best (and perhaps only) alternative we have found is what is condescendingly called a social safety net.

Some way must be found and employed to support and protect members of society who for whatever reason do not meet the performance demands of what we so proudly proclaim to be a meritocracy. We use the word to make competition for a pool of resources seem like an admirable quality, but the pool is shrinking in relation to the number of competitors and the rewards are few and far between, with few exceptions, even for those who manage to rise to the top.

I don't believe taxing individuals is the answer. We must find ways to tax the system instead. Europe's VAT (value added tax), excise and "sin" taxes, user fees and other consumption models will have to be part of the solution. Bernie's transaction fees, which some have called the Robin Hood tax, would be a huge revenue source. I'm sure other people smarter than I can devise better ways to make an openly competitive economy find ways to support those who cannot support themselves without resorting to the kind of state-managed models of China, Russia and other totalitarian systems.

Google search suggestions...
A couple of Scandinavian countries have recently begun experimenting with a guaranteed basic income [40,000+ links], simply passing out enough money to every citizen enough to feed, clothe and house them -- and without means testing. It's a tentative experiment, limited in time and distribution, but it is at least one imaginative response to the yawning and growing inequality to which Krugman refers.

What I'm proposing is a middle way that does not penalize material success. And not mentioned in most schemes, is the importance of not erasing intergenerational wealth accumulation too much.

As the founders noticed, we don't want an aristocrat class (though that is precisely what we are producing), but that does not mean eliminating the intergenerational transfers of wealth (especially property and economic security). That, unfortunately, was the lesson of slavery -- a despicable crime against an entire class of Americans who contributed more to America's economic success in the world than those who enslaved them. So no, we do not want to do away with inheritance altogether. That adjustment may be, in fact, the very place where some economic course corrections should be considered.

Sorry for the long comment. I got started and couldn't stop...
Human work is rapidly becoming obsolete.
I noticed years ago when I was watching the stock market that labor reductions often triggered an increase in the value of a company stock. It seems counterintuitive because layoffs typically signal hard times. But it makes sense when you realize that one of the most costly expenses of any organization is it's people. Wages and benefits are a heavy price to pay compared with the value of the output, whether it be a product or a service. The most valuable employees are those who can operate or manage operations in ways that reduce the number of other people, and in many cases eliminate them altogether.  Mergers and acquisitions are perhaps the quickest way that expenses can be reduced. The same support staffs responsible for payroll, accounting, personnel and legal services for a company with two hundred employees can manage twice or three times as much with very little additional staff.  I was in the cafeteria business, and staffing is very much like a kitchen. A cook who opens five gallons of beans for lunch can just as easily put twice as much on the range, serving twice as many customers, with virtually the same time and effort. 

And speaking of the obsolescence of work, I observed it for years as technology and efficiency eliminated jobs in the cafeteria business. Thirty-five or forty years ago it was a little food factory. We did everything "from scratch."  Breads, cakes, pie shells and fillings and toppings -- all were made at each location in a bakery which employed two or three bakers in the morning and two more for the evening shift. A full-time butcher prepared ground beef, cutlets, steaks and bone stock from hanging beef. The salad department and the central kitchen both had the same recipe for mayonnaise made from scratch so they wouldn't steal from each other -- the salad department used mayo in many of their salads and dressings, and the kitchen made tartare sauce in ten-gallon batches for tartar sauce, chopping the pickles and parsley.  I don't need to describe what happened as factory-made products replaced these labor-intensive methods, and as it happened jobs vanished.

What happened to the cafeteria business is but one small part of what happens every time another technological advancement takes place. Ironically the new products are even better, more reliable, less expensive, safer and more consistent than the labor-intensive ones they replace. More often than not they are also disposable. It's quicker and less expensive to replace a broken coffee maker or microwave than get the old one repaired. Times have changed since my parents' old frigidaire bought before I was in grade school was still operating after I left for college, replaced by one that was bigger, more efficient and lasted even longer.

The price we pay for technological progress rarely takes into account the number of hourly jobs which are eliminated along the way. The arithmetic of a company is straightforward. Fewer employees means more money for the profit line. But I never see any analysis of what happens to the people whose jobs have been eliminated. This, the steady loss of hourly jobs, results in a race to the bottom of the economy as more people compete for the lowest-paying jobs. The result is that employers have no incentive to increase wages in an increasingly competitive business environment. This feedback loop started with the industrial revolution and continues with a velocity that is increasing every year.

Additional links:

Giving poor people cash makes them happier — and their cashless neighbors miserable
Updated by Dylan Matthews 
January 23, 2016
There's a large empirical literature on cash transfer now, andthe results are very positive, with various studies finding that just handing out money increases consumption, encourages investments in important assets like metal roofs, encourages more people to start working, boosts earnings, and doesn't lead to more spending on things like alcohol or tobacco. 
This had led to a quiet cash revolution in development circles, as aid agencies, nonprofits, and the like have become considerably more sympathetic to cash as an intervention, and new charities devoted to cash grants, likeGiveDirectly, have gained ground.
Cash transfer programmes empower poor people in developing countries to take control over their own lives. 
Development in Action blogger Hannah Loryman explores why they’re so successful
August, 2013
Over the past 15 years there has been a “quiet revolution” in development. Not in the form of ground breaking technological advancements or complicated new theories. Instead, the idea is simple: give money directly to the people who need it, through cash transfers. These are a key component of social protection: policies to protect the poor which include non-contributory pensions, health insurance and other benefits. Originally these were mainly implemented in middle income countries; however, low income countries are increasingly introducing programmes of their own (although they are often donor funded). Successful programmes across Latin America, Asia and Africa have demonstrated the potential of cash transfers to reduce poverty and vulnerability.
[More at the link...]

All about the Robin Hood Tax
Numerous FAQ, inclulding this:
In recent years there has been an explosion in high frequency trading – thousands of transactions happen every second via computer algorithms. There has also been a huge increase in derivatives, making the volume of financial transactions increase to more than 70 times the size of the world economy. Many serious commentators believe this volume is dangerously large and destabilizing, and that many of these transactions are socially useless. 
Many of the most speculative, risky and socially useless transactions are based on very small profit margins, meaning that even at the very low tax rates we propose, a Robin hood Tax would shrink the size of the market by reducing the profitability of the most risky transactions. 
These are among the reasons why more than a 1,000 economists, including a number of Nobel laureates, support the Robin Hood Tax. 
At the Robin Hood Tax Campaign we are principally supportive of an FTT because of the money it will raise to help repair the U.S. and global economies. However, if it also acts to reduce risky gambling and make the world economy safer that can only be a good thing. 
Minimum wage for microcephalic babies
[Google translation...]
The INSS agencies should receive in the coming weeks a flurry of requests of the Continuous Cash Benefit (BPC) for babies with microcephaly. Worth a minimum wage (R $ 880), the bag is already supplied to around 4 million people who have from 65 years or disability, provided they meet the requirements. The main one is that household income per capita (per person) or up to R $ 220. The federal budget for payment of the benefit this year was R $ 48.3 billion. That amount should increase as the Ministry of Health reported 4100 newborns with malformation. Number expected to reach 16,000 by December, according to estimates from Fiocruz. The INSS should set up a task force to to expedite the assessment of cases of children with malformation. The possibility of receiving a minimum salary encouraged some families from Pernambuco. In Gabriel's house, three months, who lives in Glory Goitá in North Forest, 75 km from Recife, the money would come in handy to support the trips you need to do up to three times a week to the capital and also in feed.  
To qualify for the benefit babies have to undergo medical expertise. What should generate even greater queues that today, as the strike by medical experts INSS, that after five months came to an end last Monday, left 400,000 calls retained in the country - 40,000 in the state. A technical representative of the INSS Social Service in the Northeast, Teresa Vital de Souza, said that so far the demand of benefit to microcephalic babies was not felt. Of the 1,373 babies reported in the state, only four came to do the scheduling.

Why a bunch of Silicon Valley investors are suddenly interested in universal basic income
Updated by Dylan Matthews 

January 28, 2016
Basic income is having a moment. First Finland announced it would launch an ambitious experiment to see if it would work to give everyone in a given area is given a set amount of cash every year from the government, no strings attached. Now the Silicon Valley seed investment firm Y Combinator has announced it wants to fund a basic income experiment in the US.
Y Combinator — a startup incubator that counts Dropbox, Airbnb, and Reddit among its alumni — seems mostly interested in basic income as a response to technological unemployment. In the future, the reasoning goes, enough work will be automated that demand for all but the highest skilled labor will collapse, leaving a small group of programmers and capitalists with all the coconuts and most people with nothing.
Lest we get too excited, here is a closer look at the idea from Evgeny Morozov, a savvy observer who has been watching technology for some time. 
Silicon Valley talks a good game on ‘basic income’, but its words are empty
The radical idea of handing cash to citizens regardless of whether they work has taken root in Europe. Now America’s tech elite is backing the concept – but why?
February 27, 2016
Silicon Valley rarely talks politics – except, perhaps, to discuss the quickest ways of disrupting it. On the rare occasions that its leaders do speak out, it is usually to disparage the homeless, celebrate colonialism or complain about the hapless city regulators who are out to strangle the fragile artisans who gave us Uber and Airbnb. 
Thus it is puzzling that America’s tech elites have become the world’s loudest proponents of basic income – an old but radical idea that has been embraced, for very different reasons and in very different forms, by both left and right. From Marc Andreessen to Tim O’Reilly, Silicon Valley’s royalty seems intrigued by the prospect of handing out cash to ordinary citizens, regardless of whether they work or not.[...]So, why all the fuss – and in Silicon Valley, of all places? 
First, there is the traditional libertarian argument against the intrusiveness and inefficiency of the welfare state – a problem that basic income, once combined with the full-blown dismantling of public institutions, might solve. Second, the coming age of automation might result in even more people losing their jobs – and the prospect of a guaranteed and unconditional basic income might reduce the odds of another Luddite uprising. Better to have everyone learning how to code, receiving basic income and hoping to meet an honest venture capitalist. 
Third, the precarious nature of employment in the gig economy no longer looks as terrifying if you receive basic income of some kind. Driving for Uber, after all, could be just a hobby that occasionally yields some material benefits. Think fishing, but a bit more social. And who doesn’t like fishing? 
Basic income, therefore, is often seen as the Trojan horse that would allow tech companies to position themselves as progressive, even caring – the good cop to Wall Street’s bad cop – while eliminating the hurdles that stand in the way of further expansion. 
Goodbye to all those cumbersome institutions of the welfare state, employment regulations that guarantee workers’ rights or subversive attempts to question the status quo with regards to the ownership of data or the infrastructure that produces it.And yet there is something else to Silicon Valley’s advocacy: the sudden realisation that, should it fail to define the horizons of the basic income debate, the public might eventually realise that the main obstacle in the way of this radical idea is none other than Silicon Valley itself. 
To understand why, it is best to examine the most theoretically and technologically sophisticated version of the basic income argument. 
This is the work of radical Italian economists – Carlo Vercellone, Andrea Fumagalli and Stefano Lucarelli – who for decades have been penning pungent critiques of “cognitive capitalism” – that is, the current stage of capitalism, characterised by the growing importance of cognitive labour and the declining importance of material production.Unlike other defenders of basic income who argue that it is necessary on moral or social grounds, these economists argue that it makes sound economic sense during our transition to cognitive capitalism. It is a way to avoid structural instability – generated, among other things, by the increasing precariousness of work and growing income polarisation – and to improve the circulation of ideas (as well as their innovative potential) in the economy. 
How so? First, it is a way to compensate workers for the work they do while not technically working – which, as we enter cognitive capitalism, often produces far more value than paid work. Think of Uber drivers who are generating useful data, which helps Uber in making resource allocation decisions, in between their trips. 
Second, because much of our labour today is collective – do you know by how much your individual search improves Google’s search index? Or how much a line of code you contribute to a free software project enhances the overall product? – it is often impossible to determine the share of individual contribution in the final product. Basic income simply acknowledges that much of modern cognitive labour is social in character. 
Finally, it is a way to ensure that some of the productivity gains associated with the introduction of new techniques for rationalising the work process – which used to be passed on to workers through mechanisms such as wage indexing – can still be passed on, even as collective bargaining and other forms of employment rights are weakened. This, in turn, could lead to higher investments and higher profits, creating a virtuous circle.
There is more at the link but you get the idea.

Moving right along, there's this via Bloomberg Business...

Goldman Sachs Says It May Be Forced to Fundamentally Question How Capitalism Is Working
The profit margins debate could lead to an unsettling conclusion
Joe Weisenthal
February 3, 2016
One of the most heated debates among investors is the question of whether corporate profit margins can maintain their elevated level, or whether they will inevitably revert to mean 
A new note from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts led by Sumana Manohar looks at the bull and bear arguments for the profit margins debate. 
Manohar argued that profit margins have expanded, thanks to four key trends: strong commodities prices, emerging market cost arbitrage (companies making things more cheaply in emerging markets), demand growth from emerging markets, and improved corporate efficiency driven by the use of new technology. Continuing one of its major analytical themes of recent months, Goldman also noted that the market has rewarded companies that have undertaken mergers and share buybacks, as opposed to companies that have invested internally, further bolstering margins. 
So will profit margins inevitably roll over?Goldman went through both sides of the argument. On the bull side, the bank said that ongoing consolidation in industries, cost deflation, and tighter purse strings help keep a floor under margins. Ultimately though, it found that the above trends, coupled with weak demand and general industrial overcapacity, mean that margins are likely to come down. 
But what if margins stay elevated? That too is possible, and its implications could be unsettling.Goldman wrote: "We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion. But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism." 
In other words, profit margins should naturally mean-revert and oscillate. The existence of fat margins should encourage new competitors and pricing cycles that cause those margins to erode; conversely, at the bottom of the cycle, low margins should lead to weaker players exiting the business and giving stronger companies more breathing space. If that cycle doesn't continue, something strange is taking place 
Needless to say, it's not every day you see a major investment bank say it might have to start asking broader questions about capitalism itself.
Here's a quick look at S&P 500-stock index profit margins, for example,
going back more than 25 years. They remain high by historical standards.
The reader might like to visit this two-year-old piece by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones (May, 2014). That was about the time Thomas Piketty first made a splash proclaiming "r > g."
Heads have been spinning ever since.
I like the "best comment" of the 250 left by readers:
DoctorJay 2 years ago  I think the counter argument is that when there is a glut of capital (which more than a few people think we are in now) there is a reduction in r but there is also a reduction in g. That's pretty much where we are right now - reduced returns to capital and reduced growth rate.Honestly, that's what the people that hold capital want - If their personal wealth does not grow faster than the economy in general, then everyone else is catching up. And I think that human beings act more out of status motivation than profit-maximizing motivation.    
ReplySteve Roth to  DoctorJay  @DoctorJay: run don't walk to read Steve Randy Waldman's brilliant post on money as insurance on the Titanic: 
Or: "I don't have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you."


Also, two years ago when Piketty was in the headlines...

The Conservative Case for a Guaranteed Basic Income
Creating a wage floor is an effective way to fight poverty—and it would reduce government spending and intrusion.
Noah Gordon 
August 6, 2014
The idea isn’t new. As Frum notes, Friederich Hayek endorsed it. In 1962, the libertarian economist Milton Friedman advocated a minimum guaranteed income via a “negative income tax.” In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” Richard Nixon unsuccessfully tried to pass a version of Friedman’s plan a few years later, and his Democratic opponent in the 1972 presidential election, George McGovern, also suggested a guaranteed annual income. 
More recently, in a 2006 book, conservative intellectual Charles Murray proposed eliminating all welfare transfer programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone 21 years and older. The Alaska Permanent Fund, funded by investments from state oil revenues, sends annual dividend checks to the state’s residents. Switzerland is voting on an unconditional basic income later this year. (Though the fundamental basic-income guarantee involves an unconditional grant to every citizen, no matter their wealth or age, other versions wouldn’t cut checks to those in top tax brackets or those receiving Social Security.) [More at the link, which opens with references to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio.] 
Barack Obama's proposed budget includes a proposal for wage insurance for people at the $50,000 and below earnings level in the event they lose that primary job. The GOP dominated House of Representatives has decided not to even consider the president's budget suggestions, but it is at least now on the record.

President Obama's budget calls for a new wage insurance program. Here's what that means.
Updated by Matthew Yglesias 

February 9, 2016
Congress isn't going to do it, of course, but it's a very interesting inclusion because we haven't traditionally seen this idea on Democratic Party wish lists. The fact that the president is pushing it now is a strong sign the administration would like to plant wage insurance as a seed in the minds of congressional Democrats even after Obama leaves the White House.[snip]As the overall level of skill and education in the workforce grows (which is actually a good thing), the risk that workers will be unable to find reemployment at the exact same skill and wage level will also rise. 
The basic idea of wage insurance is that workers should be insured not just against the risk of losing a job, but against the risk of being forced to switch to a lower-paying one.

Thomas Piketty on the rise of Bernie Sanders: the US enters a new political era
The Vermont senator’s success so far demonstrates the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections
Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race. But it has now been demonstrated that another Sanders – possibly younger and less white – could one day soon win the US presidential elections and change the face of the country. In many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections. 
Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime. 
Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system. 
Meanwhile, the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people. The judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics, which greatly complicates the task of candidates like Sanders. 
However, new forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle. We are far from gloomy prophecies about  the end of history.
This piece was first published in Le Monde on 14 February 2016
Basic income may be needed to combat robot-induced unemployment, leading AI expert says
The rise of artificial intelligence could put millions of human workers out of jobs - could a basic income be a solution?
Doug Bolton

[Good link with numerous references. These are the final paragraphs:]
According to a 2015 study, around 70 per cent of young people in Australia currently enter the workforce in jobs which will be "radically affected by automation." 
A separate 60 per cent of students are currently being trained for occupations in which at least two-thirds of jobs could be automated within the next 10 to 15 years, it claimed. 
If technology-induced mass employment does become a reality in the future, a basic income may be one of the solutions. Governments around the world will be keeping a close eye on the experiments in northern Europe to see just how feasible the concept is.

A Basic Income For Ontario? Province Plans Pilot Project As Part Of Budget
The Huffington Post Canada

By Daniel Tencer
Posted: 02/26/2016

The government of Ontario is planning to launch a pilot project to test out a guaranteed basic income. 
What that pilot project will look like, and what it will cost, is not yet known. In its budget documents, unveiled Thursday, the Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne said it would “work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to design and implement a Basic Income pilot.” 
Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the province will decide whether to make a basic income permanent on the basis of that pilot project, the Globe and Mail reported. 
The idea of replacing numerous government benefits with a single cheque sent to all households, regardless of income, has been gaining steam in recent years. 
Finland plans to outline a basic income plan for its citizens later this year, while the Dutch city of Utrecht launched an experiment in January, involving welfare recipients, to see what effect a basic income would have. 
The Swiss will vote in a referendum in June to decide whether to implement a basic income of some C$3,200 per month — much more generous than most basic income proposals and experiments.
In Ontario, some municipalities have been calling on the provincial government to cosider implementing a basic income. Kingston's city council last December becamethe first legislative body in Canada to endorse the idea. 
Supporters of the basic income idea say it could all but eliminate poverty. They argue it would streamline government bureaucracies, as a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security and others. 
The town of Dauphin, Manitoba, ran an experiment on what was then called a “minimum income,” or “mincome,” back in the 1970s. The experiment’s results were shelved, likely for political reasons, but a researcher uncovered the data in recent years and found the program largely eliminated poverty. 
Critics of the basic income often raise concerns that it would create a disincentive to work. The Dauphin experiment showed that there was a small decline in the workforce, but it was mostly due to people being able to afford to go back to school for further education.
I’ve been homeless 3 times. The problem isn’t drugs or mental illness — it’s poverty.
by Veronica Harnish 
March 8, 2016
At a late January Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa, 46-year-old Carrie Aldrich described through tears what it was like struggling to survive on less than $12,000 a year. I watched and shook my head knowingly, having survived on $8,000 each of the past two years. Such low income, combined with a perfect storm of unaffordable rent, incompatible roommates, non-living wages, and an inability to find full-time work, resulted in three bouts of homelessness that forced me to live in my car. And in a few days, it will happen a fourth time for the same reasons. 
I was born into a middle-class family, but I've hovered near poverty level all of my adult life because my line of work doesn't pay much. My career consisted of administrative roles in high-tech offices and government agencies, with most of it contract work because it paid more and provided more flexibility and mobility than permanent secretarial work. 
I attended college pay-as-you-go for a couple years while working, then left because I couldn't afford to continue and knew better than to take on student debt. My moderate savings was destroyed in my 30s by health care costs that insurance wouldn't cover. Within the past several years, full-time work that pays a subsistence wage has been hard to come by. Now I'm pushing 50, and am aging out of a workforce that for the most part gave me a subsistence-level existence at best. 
Three times within the past four years I've lived in my 36-year-old car that has more than 400,000 miles on it, because I could not find affordable rental housing or a job that paid a living wage. Though I reside in the Pacific Northwest, the situation is the same all across the country. Impoverished, working single women without children do not get top priority on long waitlists for subsidized housing, rapid rehousing, or other government services or benefits. I don't have family or a spouse to turn to for help or support. Friends can't or won't help for their own various reasons and circumstances. I am totally on my own.
This is a long piece -- almost four thousand words. And the writer is a published writer and blogger.
Her descriptions of the gig economy derive from harsh personal experience.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

NY Times on Slavery -- April 23, 2016

Several Twitter messages from Ta-Nehisi Coates @tanehisicoates with brief quotes alerted me to this timely op-ed in the Times. I'm grabbing it here for future reference. 
April 23, 2016

The reparations movement, which calls for compensating the descendants of generations of enslaved Americans going back 250 years, has failed to gain traction in this country for a variety of reasons.

Most Americans see slavery as an artifact of the distant past that has no bearing on the nation’s present. And even people who are sympathetic to the reparations idea — and who acknowledge the continued imprint of slavery on society — have often argued that there is no way to distinguish descendants who have provable claims to compensation from those who do not, partly because enslaved people usually went unnamed in the United States census, which rendered them faceless in the historical record.

Bankers, merchants and manufacturers all profited from the slave trade, as did companies that insured slaving ships and their cargo. And more than a dozen universities have acknowledged ties to slavery. Even so, some will find ways to paper over the role that slavery played in their founding and early history.

Such denials are impossible in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.

The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known. The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.

Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.

Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.

Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.

At Georgetown, slavery and scholarship were inextricably linked. The college relied on its plantations to help pay for its operations. When the school fell into trouble, the sale of the African-American men, women and children staved off its ruin.

The black Georgetown families might have been lost to history had the Jesuits not recorded their names. With that information in hand, a nonprofit group called the Georgetown Memory Project has begun tracking down living descendants of these families. The statistical model used by the project estimates that there are 12,000 to 15,000 living descendants of the original 272 enslaved people.

Following student protests last fall, the university removed from two campus buildings the names of the two priests who arranged the sale. In addition, a university working group made up of students, alumni, professors and others are studying ways for the university to acknowledge, memorialize and make amends for this history.

According to Richard Cellini, the Georgetown alumnus who established the memory project, some of the descendants wept openly when they were told of family histories that had been a mystery to them. As Catholics, some have experienced crises of faith since learning of the brutality of the 19th-century priests. None of the descendants he has spoken with have mentioned money or reparations for themselves, Mr. Cellini said.

The descendants want their ancestors recognized in a durable way. Some would like to see a permanent memorial on campus that honors the enslaved families, one descendant said, as “real people with real names.” Georgetown can begin by welcoming the descendants into the university family and listening to their suggestions.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Shame and Blame Notes

Update April 16, 2016
From today I am adding links and comments at the opening of this post. The reader should be aware of date/time notations. As the title says, these are "notes," not intended to create a narrative but to monitor a social media trend in real time. As the host I am also tweaking the date of publication, which saves combing the archives for lost or forgotten content. 

The Secret Rules of the Internet
The murky history of moderation, and how it’s shaping the future of free speech
By Catherine Buni & Soraya Chemaly

This extremely long read at The Verge is tiresome, but it's hard to know how it might be edited to be shorter. The subject is huge. The backstory is byzantine. And thanks to technology, the content is overwhelming.
Mora-Blanco is one of more than a dozen current and former employees and contractors of major internet platforms from YouTube to Facebook who spoke to us candidly about the dawn of content moderation. Many of these individuals are going public with their experiences for the first time. Their stories reveal how the boundaries of free speech were drawn during a period of explosive growth for a high-stakes public domain, one that did not exist for most of human history. As law professor Jeffrey Rosen first said many years ago of Facebook, these platforms have "more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president." 
...Today, YouTube’s billion-plus users upload 400 hours of video every minute. Every hour, Instagram users generate 146 million "likes" and Twitter users send 21 million tweets. Last August, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook that the site had passed "an important milestone: For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day." 
The moderators of these platforms — perched uneasily at the intersection of corporate profits, social responsibility, and human rights — have a powerful impact on free speech, government dissent, the shaping of social norms, user safety, and the meaning of privacy. What flagged content should be removed? Who decides what stays and why? What constitutes newsworthiness? Threat? Harm? When should law enforcement be involved? 
While public debates rage about government censorship and free speech on college campuses, customer content management constitutes the quiet transnational transfer of free-speech decisions to the private, corporately managed corners of the internet where people weigh competing values in hidden and proprietary ways. Moderation, explains Microsoft researcher Kate Crawford, is "a profoundly human decision-making process about what constitutes appropriate speech in the public domain."

Fasten your seatbelt. This is a wild ride. 

Update April 13, 2016:
The dark side of Guardian comments
As part of a series on the rising global phenomenon of online harassment, the Guardian commissioned research into the 70m comments left on its site since 2006 and discovered that of the 10 most abused writers eight are women, and the two men are black. Hear from three of those writers, explore the data and help us host better conversations online
by Becky Gardiner, Mahana Mansfield, Ian Anderson, Josh Holder, Daan Louterand Monica Ulmanu

New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about. 
Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish. 
And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men. 
How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem? 
At the Guardian, we felt it was high time to examine the problem rather than turn away. 
We decided to treat the 70m comments that have been left on the Guardian – and in particular the comments that have been blocked by our moderators – as a huge data set to be explored rather than a problem to be brushed under the carpet.This is what we discovered.
[Go to the link for details.]



File under "shaming and blaming."Rachel Dolezal is being twice victimizedHer children and family do not deserve this.
Posted by John Ballard on Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Another Facebook post becomes the springboard for this blog post.
I posted two comments at the same time...

Comment #1 
The source for this link, Homeschoolers Anonymous, is a support group for people whose experience growing up being "homeschooled" has not resulted in, shall we say, the most desireable outcomes. Read the introduction closely and check a few of the links. Being homeschooled is not always a pretty picture, especially when practiced by the fundamentalist Christian lunatic fringe. Read about "blanket training."

Comment #2
ATI is the acronym for American Training Institute.
IBLP stands for Institute of Basic Life Principles.
These are fundamentalist Christian cults.
Don't take my word for it. Do your own homework. Read the arguments and recriminations in the comments threads.
Listen to the backstories and get a sense of conflicted narratives.
Public personas notwithstanding, these are not nice people.
Check these links:

My thoughts at this point are unclear. This blogpost is a way of scribbling notes to myself as I connect dots not yet clearly connected.  One dot involves the growth and impact of public shaming which because of social media have shifted into overdrive. Another dot, which I call victim-blaming, has become a growing trend (also pumped up by social media). It has been around since the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Puritanism, but again, with the help of both social and commercial media has become a gorilla in the room. 

Shame and blame go together like cream and sugar. Something tells me that religious extremism is foundational to both.  And religious extremism is not limited to one faith. The same dynamic driving these trends in America also energizes Islamic extremism so much in the news, and the uncharacteristic violence of Gnanasara Buddhists in Myanmar targeting Rohingya Muslims in that country. This snip from Time (August 2014) describes several violent groups from Buddhist teaching with has historically been famously non-violent.
BBS, or Bodu Bala Sena, otherwise known as Buddhist Power Force, is a Buddhist supremacist group accused of stirring sectarian hatred in Sri Lanka. Led by a monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, BBS accuses Sri Lanka’s Muslims of threatening the nation’s Buddhist identity, and enjoys support at high levels. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother who also serves as Secretary of Defense, has been an outspoken supporter of BBS in the past. 
“BBS echoes the sympathies and the prejudices of the majority Buddhist population,” says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council NGO. “So the views have a certain resonance, and the media gives voice to that, and the counter view is toned down or even censored.” 
The Sri Lankan experience is far from unique. In Burma, officially known as Myanmar, just 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across the Bay of Bengal, an extremist Buddhist movement called 969 is waging a parallel war, using identical tactics as BBS. (Both groups rose to prominence around 2012. Its leader is also a monk, Wirathu. When anti-Muslim riots erupted in the central Burmese town of Meiktila in April last year, clashes that killed dozens and displaced thousands, he arrived in the middle of the carnage, although later claimed to have tried to halt the bloodshed. Then, during last month’s communal riots in Mandalay, where Wirathu’s monastery is based, he fanned the flames through an incendiary Facebook post warning of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists.

Tim Hunt will become a footnote in this discussion, but his case illustrates my point.  I want to keep my comment at another Facebook link (below).
Tim Hunt at home in Hertfordshire.
Photo: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
Today's social media vehicles are like all new toys -- TNT, X-Rays, DDT -- and we haven't learned how to keep them in check. Only too late do we discover dangers and downsides. 
This guy is yet another target of public shaming way out of proportion to what he said. Lewinsky's return got my attention. And since then I have become more alert to the unexpected consequences of snap-chat and sexting. Heck, politicians and sports figures screw up with cameras and audio rolling and sometimes let go with far worse than this. Then there are the lyrics of what passes for music these days. 
And I find most anything from the NRA more offensive than this. Gimme a break. This is very small potatoes.
The sin he committed was speaking carelessly in violation of one of today's most politically sensitive subjects, the mistreatment of women.
...Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him. 
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.
The reaction was a media explosion dramatic as any plane crash. The reader will have no trouble digging up the details. (Wikipedia is a moving target, but see what it may provide.)


Returning to the original link about Rachel Dolezal, this listicle at Wonkette ledes with a somewhat snarky take on the story. I think of Wonkette as being more sensitive to shame and blame targets but in this case they seem to be on the bandwagon. 
First person with a white dark side.
In our noble and oh-so-exceptional country, panels of men explain how ladies and their parts work, “not a scientist” politicians teach us about science and how it’s all fake anyway, and people who think we’re the U.S. of Jesus tell Jews how to be do Being A Jew correctly. So this sounds about right and exactly what we deserve. Black-but-actually-not Rachel Dolezal — who identifies as black because she really hates whitey (read: her parents, and they’re not the boss of her!) — can’t be president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP anymore, so maybe she can be a reality TV star! It is the career choice for anyone who has failed at reality life. (See, for example, every reality TV star ever.) 
NAACP race faker Rachel Dolezal stepped down from her job Monday, but has learned she already has a new gig in the works: Dolezal is fielding multiple offers to film a reality show, and is seeking professional representation after her bombshell interview on the Today show. […]
“Rachel wants to use all of the publicity to raise awareness about race relations,” the source said.  
Wow, if only there were some black woman somewhere in America, willing and able to raise awareness about race relations. Oh well, guess not, so Dolezal, who used to be a white lady who got reverse-racismed, before she became a black lady who got old fashioned-style racismed, will have to do it. For her people. And the struggle, man. Race is only a social construct, after all, but fortune and fame? That shit is for real. And this way, maybe America will at long last be willing to watch a black woman talk about race. As long as she’s white.
That's a new word for me -- racismed. I need to remember that.  I'll add that and race faker to the toolbox of selective snark.


It's no surprise that the homeschool backstory includes a variety of styles, many deriving from faith-based approaches to teaching and child-rearing. Religious foundations come as no surprise, since parochial education has often had an elite status.  The post-secondary level also includes a rich heritage of faith-supported colleges and universities.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is, as the name says, an advocacy group founded in 1983.
Through the years, HSLDA’s primary goal has remained the same—to bring together a large number of homeschooling families so that each can have a low-cost method of obtaining quality legal defense. Today, HSLDA gives tens of thousands of families the freedom to homeschool without having to face legal threats alone. Through many families sticking together, we have been able to keep the cost of a year’s membership close to the rate that a family would have to pay for an hour of an attorney’s time almost anywhere else. 
After a family joins HSLDA, there are no further charges of any kind for defending them in court. HSLDA pays in full all attorney fees, expert witness costs, travel expenses, and all other court costs permissible by state law for us to pay.
Recently a rift opened up between that group and the influential, widespread homeschool ministries of Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. Comments left at following link are as informative as the main story.
Homeschool leader disavows ‘patriarchy’HSLDA founder Michael P. Farris criticizes the teachings of former ministry leaders Doug Phillips and Bill GothardBy DANIEL JAMES DEVINEAug. 29, 2014 
Longtime homeschool attorney and advocate Michael P. Farris, who founded the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and founded Patrick Henry College in 2000, issued a public statement Wednesday distancing himself from “patriarchy.” Specifically, he criticized the teachings of two leaders formerly popular among homeschoolers, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, who both recently stepped down from ministries amid allegations of sexual misconduct 
Phillips, an attorney himself, worked with Farris at HSLDA for six years. He went on to launch The Vision Forum Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries with his wife Beall. Last year, Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum Ministries after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a young woman. The ministry closed soon after.
Gothard was a longtime ministry leader who drew thousands of families to weeklong seminars in the 1970s and ’80s, teaching practical applications of biblical principles and warning against debt and rock music. He resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct with multiple young women. (Gothard admitted to crossing the “boundaries of discretion” with some young women but denied any “sexual intent.”)
This post is focused on shame and blame, not homeschooling. But faith and homeschooling, like shame and blame, also go together like cream and sugar.  There is more at the link. As I said, take a look at the comments for an illustration of blame and shame in action. It's fairly easy to spot, wrapped in a thin tissue of clenched-teeth politeness, although #19 is more homily than argument.

I must admit to personal bias on my part because my views on education in general and private schools in particular prejudice me about homeschools, and not in a good way. That said, let's get back to the subject of blame and shame.


Monica Lewinsky's return caught my attention immediately. A light came on and all at once I began to look at my Facebook and Twitter links through a new lens. I realized that social media are at some level becoming anti-social. The polarization of politics is a natural development. The gap separating rich and poor is symptomatic. Racial and ethnic conflicts fit neatly into the template. Conspiracy advocates, birthers, science deniers -- all these and more are symptomatic of a Second World of perception that dismisses empathy, reflection, nuance or what us old-timers once called common sense.

Recommended reading and listening.Read this first.Then listen to this morning's NPR interview of Jon Ronson.
Posted by John Ballard on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Listen to this NPR interview with Ronson.

No list of shame and blame examples would be complete without mention of Kim Kardashian. She illustrates the most effective, perhaps only way to cope with the slings and arrows of celebrity is to make lemonade from what seems to be a volcanic eruption of lemons. 

Here is another figure I only know by name and headlines. She got my attention a couple weeks ago when the NPR game show Wait! Wait! had her for a guest. I happened to be listening and was surprised at what struck me as a rather pedestrian personality, a little self-deprecating, hugely ordinary for someone I expected to be a roman candle of controversy.  Instead she was almost child-like in what came across as a high-school cheerleader level of innocence. A current Facebook link floats in an ocean of shame and blame. I'm confident there will be many more. Look at the endless number of snarky takedowns, most of them shimmering with what my commenter quoted as "a form of sanctimonious judgement [which] spends more time banning forms of social activity that it regards as counter-progressive than it does in enhancing choice or recommending tolerance for the choices of others."


This appeared in my Facebook feed.
I haven't revisited this post for some time but the phenomenon still grows. 

Sadly it is now just a few hours after the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and Bernie Sanders has at this writing ridden a surge of popularity to a tie with Hillary Clinton in the contest to select the Democratic candidate for this year's presidential election. And in the excitement of the moment I have found two examples of shame and blame carelessness, both of which derive from the Sanders surge.

This image of Monica Lewinsky is a cheap shot that many will find clever but which I find disgusting for reasons already noted. The other is a defensive rant from the Hillary Clinton camp that captures a measure of rage and frustration that is completely understandable.
I'm copying it here in toto lest it be taken down later. 

As Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have become head-to-head rivals, their denizens have begun attacking each other, the Democratic Party eating itself like a snake that loves science and Planned Parenthood. And things have gotten ugly.

For many of us, it's not simply politics as usual. It's very personal.

For me, the backlash against Hillary Clinton feels very, very personal.

Can you imagine how absolutely infuriating it must be for Hillary to have to work so hard to be likable, but strong? Hip, but above the need to be seen as cool? For everything she says to be perfect because she'd be crucified otherwise, meanwhile Bernie Sanders could say pretty much anything he wants and it would be seen as the goddamn revolution? I'm so infuriated on her behalf. Because what you like about Bernie, what they like about Trump, she doesn't get to do that. She doesn't get to be all wild hair and yelling. Do I wish different? Of course. And the first female president would go a long way toward making that difference possible.

So since Hillary cannot yell, since by the virtue of being sane and not a white man she is forced to be the biggest adult in the room, just like Obama has had to for eight goddamn years, I will yell for her.






THE DAY MY HUSBAND TOLD ME HE LIKED BERNIE, HE SAID, "I mean, how great is it to have a president who just doesn't even care how his hair looks" AND I EXPLODED "DO YOU THINK THERE EXISTS A WORLD WHERE A WOMAN COULD EVEN CONSIDER THAT?"






Hillary: College should be affordable.
Twitter: Establishment puppet, no better than GOP.
Bernie: College should be affordable.
Twitter: DAD






Thank you for your time. Excuse me while I nope out of the comments for all eternity.


Another example of a lifetime of professionalism under attack.
In this case a faculty member is taking the heat for siding with student protests.

Melissa Click, Missouri Professor, Defends Her Actions Against Student Journalist
FEB. 19, 2016
In Melissa Click’s view, one of her worst moments happened to be caught on video and seen by millions of people.
Ms. Click, a University of Missouri communications professor, was taking part in a student protest over racial issues in November when she grabbed at a student journalist’s camera and enlisted other activists to help her with a call that ricocheted across social media: “I need some muscle over here! 
She has since apologized, and she has since been suspended by the university. Ms. Click has heeded advice to remain silent on social media and decline interview requests even as she was excoriated for what was viewed as an outrageous display by a member of academia. 
Some conservatives saw her as a thuggish symbol of speech-intolerant higher education, while journalists protested her attempt to restrict the ability to document events in a public area. A petition to fire her attracted more than 3,500 signatures, while more than 100 Republican lawmakers in Missouri called for her ouster. 
Attempts by ordinary people to recover their reputations after spectacular downward spirals as public villains du jour is an emerging art form and business opportunity. Status Labs has worked pro bono to arrange Ms. Click’s interviews and distribute professional head shots to replace the more commonly known image of her: a blurry, mid-yell frame from the YouTube video.
Ms. Click’s efforts to recast her narrative have been further complicated by the release last week of a video from the October homecoming parade that shows her cursing at a police officer trying to move protesters off a road. She defended that reaction as most likely being “fairly common for people pushed by police unexpectedly in the middle of an angry crowd.” 
In a statement, however, the interim university chancellor, Hank Foley, said, “Like many in our community, I watched newly released footage of Dr. Melissa Click directing a verbal assault against members of the Columbia Police Department during the homecoming parade in October 2015. Her conduct and behavior are appalling.”
March 4, 2016 
This American Life aired a program related to the shame and blame theme that must be heard to be appreciated. This must be heard to be appreciated. No synopsis can substitute. It is a powerful illustration of shame and blame.
Here is the link to that program, #581, Anatomy of Doubt.
Ira hears from a woman named Shannon about a phone call she got in 2008 that cast doubt on whether an 18 year old named Marie was telling the truth about being sexually assaulted. This idea leads to one of two investigations—one small and bad, and the other stunningly big and good.
The print original is at The Marshall Project, An Unbelievable Story of Rape. 


An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.  
No one came to court with her that day, except her public defender.
She was 18 years old, charged with a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. 
Rarely do misdemeanors draw notice. Her case was one of 4,859 filed in 2008 in Lynnwood Municipal Court, a place where the judge says the goal is “to correct behavior — to make Lynnwood a better, safer, healthier place to live, work, shop and visit.” 
But her misdemeanor had made the news, and made her an object of curiosity or, worse, scorn. It had cost her the newfound independence she was savoring after a life in foster homes. It had cost her sense of worth. Each ring of the phone seemed to announce another friendship, lost. A friend from 10th grade called to ask: How could you lie about something like that? Marie — that’s her middle name, Marie — didn’t say anything. She just listened, then hung up. Even her foster parents now doubted her. She doubted herself, wondering if there was something in her that needed to be fixed. 
She had reported being raped in her apartment by a man who had bound and gagged her. Then, confronted by police with inconsistencies in her story, she had conceded it might have been a dream. Then she admitted making the story up. One TV newscast announced, “A Western Washington woman has confessed that she cried wolf when it came to her rape she reported earlier this week.” She had been charged with filing a false report, which is why she was here today, to accept or turn down a plea deal. 
Her lawyer was surprised she had been charged. Her story hadn’t hurt anyone — no suspects arrested, or even questioned. His guess was, the police felt used. They don’t appreciate having their time wasted. 
The prosecution’s offer was this: If she met certain conditions for the next year, the charge would be dropped. She would need to get mental health counseling for her lying. She would need to go on supervised probation. She would need to keep straight, breaking no more laws. 
And she would have to pay $500 to cover the court’s costs. 
Marie wanted this behind her. 
She took the deal.