The Future Keeps Getting Less Evenly Distributed


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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Geography is destiny, when it comes to both employment and longevity. New studies show how the inequality that dug its heels into the U.S. economy in recent decades varies by location, not only in differentials of wealth but also of life expectancy — and in the likelihood that a robot or algorithm will take your job.

First, the lifespan data. While overall life expectancy in the U.S. continues to increase, when you look county by county, there are areas where it is in actual decline, according to a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine (The Washington Post). The disparity between the longest-lived zones — like the mountains of central Colorado, with their gilded ski resorts — and the cruelest ones has grown steadily; it’s now a full 20-year gap. The study didn’t look at causes. But since longer life correlates with wealth, exercise, and access to health care, the rich-poor gap that has resorted the U.S. population looks to be a likely culprit.

It’s a similar story with job security. A new study out of the University of Redlands (The Atlantic) finds that the areas of the U.S. now most at risk of losing jobs to automation aren’t the manufacturing states of the Rust Belt, but rather “areas with high concentrations of jobs in food preparation, office or administrative support, and/or sales.” In other words, not Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but regions like the Las Vegas area and San Bernardino/Riverside County, as well as mid-sized urban centers like Orlando, El Paso, and Louisville.

The idea here isn’t that manufacturing is somehow bouncing back. But automation has already transformed the factory states. It’s only beginning to cut its swath through areas where lower-income job categories predominate.

There’s no denying this is a grim picture: The bottom might be about to drop out of the service economy, leaving people who’ve been struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line in free fall. If that happens, our current wave of populist anger could end up looking like a modest prologue.

What Pokemon Go and Orthodox Judaism Have in Common

If work grows scarce, how will we support and occupy ourselves? Maybe the picture isn’t so dark after all. Author Yuval Noah Harari envisions a future scenario in which a growing idle class of “unemployables,” maintained on a universal basic income, devotes its hours to “deep play” (The Guardian).

In Harari’s vision, deep play doesn’t only mean playing games and tarrying in virtual-reality-generated environments. “Virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world,” he writes. “Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies.”

Religion, in this argument, is the oldest kind of deep play, a collective consensual hallucination in which multitudes of human beings find purpose in the pursuit of a shared fiction. In Harari’s native Israel, a class of ultra-Orthodox scholars devotes their lives to studying the Talmud, and the state supports them. “That’s universal basic income in action,” Harari argues — and though they’re typically poor, they report “higher levels of life-satisfaction” than the rest of their society. (Many, too, are supported by working wives, so there might be some other inequities built into that situation.)

Religion is just VR “with the human imagination and sacred books,” Harari says. Today we’re doing the same thing with smartphones. The next generation might devote their lives to Pokemon Go, and be perfectly happy.

Maple Runs Out of Syrup

Maple, the high-profile Manhattan meal startup that delivered high-end office lunches on demand, shut down yesterday (Alison Griswold in Quartz). Backed in part by celeb chef David Chang, two-year-old Maple had been struggling financially. Now it’s joining the growing ranks of defunct food-oriented startups that never cracked the code of making convenient great meals affordable for customers, yet profitable for providers.

Over and over, entrepreneurs and venture investors have looked at the food and restaurant business and spied what they view as multiple inefficiencies and rampant waste, just waiting to be disrupted. And over and over, their efforts to build sustainable, scalable businesses in this industry have failed.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. But one line Griswold quotes from an anonymous source suggests why this history keeps repeating itself: “They tried to structure what should have been a food group as a tech company…. It’s a different kind of business than a lot of these people are used to investing in.”

A New Lab For Progressive Political Tech

In the web era, political campaigns have gotten into the habit of standing up a technical program during a campaign to manage outreach, voter turnout, contributions, and so forth — then abandoning all that work once the election is in the rear-view mirror. A few years later, they start from scratch again.

That’s wildly inefficient. Now a band of Obama administration veterans has founded a new organization aimed at promoting a lasting infrastructure for progressive political campaigns (Recode).

Higher Ground Labs, led by Shomik Dutta, Betsy Hoover, and Andrew McLaughlin, will host a startup accelerator, a fellowship program, and events. The goal is to produce software and services that candidates and officeholders can adopt and use for the long term. At a moment when the opposition is focused on the hundreds of local campaigns it will need to mount to win Congress next year, this makes a lot of sense: However important 2018 looks now, it won’t be the last election.

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