Trump to Taxpayers: Take the Pass-Through Lane


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People generally do whatever they can to minimize their tax payments. If the Trump administration’s new tax proposals ever make their way into law, we’ll all have one big new tax loophole to leap through (The New York Times): turn yourself into a company.

President Trump wants small business, family businesses, and indeed all businesses that are currently organized as “pass-through entities” to pay the same low (15 percent) tax rate he wants to charge all businesses. A pass-through is any company that passes its earnings through to the owners for them to report on their personal tax returns. This includes everyone from your Uber driver all the way up to Trump’s own real estate conglomerate.

If this proposal ever gets enacted, all you’ll have to do to cut your tax rate to 15 percent is to file as a “pass-through entity.” While this will be hard for people who have full-time jobs with benefits, it’s relatively easy for the contractors and freelancers who make up a growing part of the U.S. workforce.

There are some trade-offs, and every individual’s situation has different wrinkles. But Trump’s pass-through proposal would represent a huge incentive to reorganize the entire U.S economy away from traditional full-time jobs — the very employment model that the president proclaims he wants to preserve.

Tech’s White, Male Clubhouse Has More Than a Pipeline Problem

A new survey of 2000 people who left their jobs in tech over the last three years finds sexual harassment, racial stereotyping, and bullying are commonplace experiences in the industry’s workforce (The Guardian). The Tech Leavers Study, by the Kapor Center for Social Impact and the Harris Poll, puts some statistical muscle behind our gut-based assumption that tech companies can’t hang on to their female employees and workers of color.

According to the study, “unfairness or mistreatment” was the reason these workers cited most often when asked why they quit. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed reported they’d experienced some form of “unfair behavior or treatment.”

This is important, not just as an indictment of the state of tech diversity but also as a counterargument to the industry’s chief argument in its defense. When companies are challenged about the long-term persistence of poor diversity records, they commonly point to “problems with the pipeline.” There just aren’t enough qualified candidates and recent graduates, they say.

But it’s now clear that filling the pipeline up front won’t do the industry any good if its workplaces are environments that women and minority-group employees actively shun. Pushing more candidates into the front of the pipe won’t do any good if there’s a giant hole downstream.

Holding Code Accountable Is Going to be Hard Work

You remember the story about Google’s photo software labeling images of black people as “gorillas”? As in so many tales of digital disaster, the culprit was Google’s algorithm. An algorithm is just a set of procedures or formulas structured to achieve some particular end. But in the hands of our giant platform overlords like Google and Facebook, the term has acquired overtones of perfection and infallibility that it doesn’t deserve.

One big problem is that, since algorithms are written by human beings and work with data generated and/or structured by human beings, they incorporate all our biases and flaws (Megan Rose Dickey in TechCrunch). Sometimes the problems are relatively easy to identify and fix — as, say, with the stupid, offensive judgments of a photo-retouching app that thinks lighter skin is inherently more attractive.

But now we’re asking algorithms to take over increasingly large swathes of our lives — from driving our vehicles to selecting our information diet. In the world we’re building, holding algorithms accountable will be a must. For that to happen, companies will have to open their code up to inspection by third parties, and government may have to take on a new regulatory role.

Neither of these scenarios looks likely in the near future. As we wait for real accountability, brace yourself for more stores of outrageous algorithmic behavior.

Google Keeps Its Contractors Out of the Loop

Last week we pointed you toward a Wired story about the contractors who screen YouTube videos for Google to try to keep them advertiser-friendly. A related piece by Annalee Newitz in Ars Technica explores the status of a different group of Google contractors who maintain the quality of search results.

These workers, like those watching the YouTube videos, are contractors working for a third-party firm hired by Google. Beyond the employment-law issues raised by their situation, Newitz highlights a deeper alienation issue: These workers believe that they’re working for Google, but Google won’t acknowledge them. They also may have great ideas for improving the search tool to contribute, but they have no channel they can use to communicate with Google. The company has built a dehumanizing quality-assurance system missing the most basic feedback loop.

When Newitz asked the raters what they’d like to say to the Google engineers who were using their work, one said, “Do they understand that we are people?”

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