Is Facebook’s free internet a Trojan horse? Facebook’s free internet plan, Free Basics, didn’t work out well when it debuted in India, but now Facebook has given the project an overhaul and has its eyes on a new market: the U.S. (The Washington Post). Free Basics is a system that lets disadvantaged users get wireless access to certain services and content free — they’re not charged against the monthly data limit. The argument for this “zero rating” concept is: let’s do a better job of bringing the benefits of internet connectivity to people who can’t afford it. The argument against it is, let’s not create a two-tier internet where poorer users get subsidized access but only to services like Facebook that underwrite it. (Last year, Susan Crawford persuasively made the against case.) The devil will be in the details, and it looks like federal regulators are moving with care. But cross your fingers that someone is looking out for the long-term interests of users here, and not just those of the BigCos.
For women in business, it’s the same old same old. U.S. businesses are still failing to make any kind of headway towards gender equality, according to a new study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey. The review of 130 companies finds that women are “underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline,” get promoted less than men, and face extra resistance when they ask for raises. It’s even tougher for women of color. While none of this comes as a surprise, the sheer Groundhog Day-like familiarity of such results is getting painful. More than 70 percent of companies have made commitments to diversity, yet the needle has remained stuck. Less talk, more action.
Rocket to ruin. Rocket Internet is one of Europe’s best-known startup accelerators — the Berlin-based firm went public in 2014 at an $8 billion valuation. But a report by Bloomberg suggests that Rocket is a lot better at starting new companies by the barrel-load than at making them successes. Rocket’s leadership says it’s focused on long-term company-building, not venture-style fast exits. But Bloomberg’s account describes an outfit that’s more focused on dressing up numbers to impress investors than bringing operational know-how to working businesses. Rocket is best known for backing fast-to-market carbon copies of U.S. innovators. It might just be that the “clone factory” model, while efficient at luring capital, doesn’t generate real growth or profit.
For most of us, freelancing is an add-on. People who freelance love it, according to a new survey by the Freelancers’ Union (Fast Company). But while 81 percent of survey respondents said they’d want to take on freelance work on top of their day jobs, only 37 percent said they’d ever considered the idea of full-time freelancing. Here are some of the barriers: The much vaunted flexibility of freelancing can’t beat the reliability of regular employment. A steady, predictable income is pretty attractive. And then there’s the benefits, particularly health coverage. For all the talk about the gig economy, we still have a ways to go before the new job model can deliver an employment package as attractive as the old one. Portable benefits plans that workers can carry from job to job (and job to freelance career) would certainly help.
Global elites are building a new “postmodern Empire.” In the agrarian model that governed human society for millennia, a small educated elite ran the world, and its members had more in common with one another than with the peasants they ruled. The Industrial Revolution and nationalism put an end to all that for a couple of centuries or so, but over the past three decades the old model, zombie-like, has revived, according to an essay from the Stratfor think tank (via Forbes). The world is increasingly run by technocrats loyal to their transnational class and isolated from the masses. This new elite can take credit for an era free of world wars, one during which a billion people rose from poverty. It can also take the blame for rising inequality and the backlash that is inspiring. Like most such world-historical arguments, this one is full of over-simplifications, but it’s usefully provocative. Are we building a better society or just restoring the same old imperium?
Featured in NewCo Shift: Stop Pretending That An Economy Can Be Controlled. The complexity of the world economy means we need some humility, and should act more like navigators than mechanics, says, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría.
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