Don’t Ditch Climate Deal, Hundreds of U.S. Firms Beg


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U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate deal would be a disaster for American business — that’s according to a whole lot of actual business people (The New York Times).

“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” hundreds of CEOs and investors told president-elect Donald Trump in a joint letter on Wednesday. The companies that signed the plea said they would meet the climate-related commitments they’ve made whether or not federal policy changes.

That’s because climate change is not a hoax or a Chinese plot; it’s an objective reality that’s already altering our lives — and a gigantic risk factor to business operations, long-term planning, social stability, and global health. Even if environmental stewardship, religious principles, or reverence for nature weren’t part of the picture for many people, plain old self-interest and self-preservation dictates action to limit the arc of planetary temperature increases.

If the U.S. government abandons any role in dealing with this issue, it won’t go away. It will mean that business people and activists, who are more used to quarreling than cooperating, will need to form a grand realist alliance.

The Cloud Will Swallow the Labor Market

Data and computing have moved to the cloud. What if every business that needed skilled workers did the same thing? That’s the “labor cloud” vision motivating Hewlett Packard veteran Stephen DeWitt, CEO of Work Market, in an interview with NewCo Shift editor-in-chief John Battelle.

It’s a leap beyond the simple gig-economy world of TaskRabbit and Uber, where every worker is a freelancer/contractor hoping to make a buck through a platform. Instead, Work Market’s idea is to give businesses the freedom to adjust the mix of staff, freelancers, and vendors on the fly as their needs change.

Individual workers would get the opportunity (and face the challenge) of representing themselves, and the skills they can offer, to an efficient marketplace that offers tons of paying work. Work for all! But we all have to do more work to market ourselves, too.

Such a transformation of work is unlikely to happen without a ton of disruption — “carnage,” as DeWitt puts it. The farther we go down this road, the more we will also turn to government for the stabilizers — health benefits, income support, retirement pensions — that full-time jobs no longer provide. (Disclosure: Work Market is the sponsor of NewCo’s new GSD: Management, and NewCo also uses the service itself.)

Gig Economy Needs Safeguards Against Bias

The more our economy turns to fluid labor marketplaces, the harder it’s going to be to police those marketplaces for discrimination and keep them fair (Technology Review). In theory, algorithm-based marketplaces should be less prone to racial and gender bias than more traditional exchanges. But researchers at Northeastern University who studied TaskRabbit and Fiverr (a creative services marketplace) found that these markets’ reliance on ratings of workers opens a back door to discrimination.

You can easily argue that these platforms are just reflecting broader social problems, not exacerbating them. But each time we reshape the economy, we get a chance to solve old problems. Platform builders have a responsibility to design discrimination out of their systems. The problem is stubborn, and they may not succeed. But they need to try.

Meals-on-Demand Are a Money-Losing Machine

Food delivery services were one of the hot spots of the startup economy a couple of years ago, but 2016 has seen a shakeout (The California Review). The problem is simple: we still haven’t figured out how to make meal delivery profitable. As long as that’s the case, each of these companies faces a cruel logic: The more they try to scale up and grab market share, the more money they lose. (It’s like the old joke about losing a little on each sale but making it up on volume.)

Part of the trouble is, too many companies have believed they can translate’s Uber’s success in the rides-on-demand market to the food-on-demand market. Bbut with food, you’re paying for a ride and a meal — the ingredients, the labor, the kitchen.

It’s hard to understand why investors have subsidized so many lunch deliveries. One possible explanation: They have their eye on the self-driving future. A handful of companies will own the market when driverless vehicles finally make this business make sense.

The Great Inequality Psych-Out

The U.S. economy today has some of the most outrageous levels of inequality in the world, yet Americans don’t seem nearly as unhappy about that as you’d think, writes Maria Konnikova (The New Yorker). Sure, frustration fed the outcome of the presidential election, but longer term psychological studies show surprising equanimity: “People say they’d be happier if there were a more equitable distribution of wealth, but they’ve actually remained just about as happy, even as inequality has gone up.”

Why? First, we’re all better off than we were before, even though the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is greater than ever. Second, many Americans don’t realize just how wide that gap really is. Finally, Americans love the underdog narrative and believe that upward mobility is much more common than it actually is. The knowledge gap may be as troubling as the income gap.

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