The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
President Trump’s decision to repudiate the Paris climate agreement marked a dead end for the “work within the system” phase of business leaders’ relationship with Trump’s administration. Among the many tech executives who sat down to parley with Trump soon after his election, the thinking was: get a seat at the table with the novice chief executive, and you could sway him when it really mattered.
Nothing matters more in the long run than the fate of the planet. But Trump chose to ignore science, his peers among world leaders, every other country on earth except for Syria and Nicaragua, his own daughter and son-in-law, and all the titans of business (among them, his secretary of state) who urged him to stick with Paris. Instead, he “extended a middle finger to the world” (Politico). Many of the tech CEOs who rode the elevator up Trump Tower last December expressed their disappointment with Trump’s choice, and Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he’s quitting Trump’s advisory board (Recode). He was not alone — Disney’s chief also resigned over the issue.
Now a broad coalition of states, cities, and companies is, essentially, telling the world: Ignore Trump — we’re doing this, with or without him. Mike Bloomberg is a key organizer of this resistance alliance (The New York Times): “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” he says. Mayors in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh have signed on to Bloomberg’s effort, along with dozens of companies. The governors of New York, California, and Washington have announced their own coalition (Politico).
These actors in the private sector and at the state and local level of the public sphere will all be striving mightily to undo the environmental harm that the president’s decision will cause. They’ll also be fighting to keep the U.S. from becoming an international pariah — and from permanently abandoning its mantle of global leadership (The New York Times). You could almost be heartened by this response, if the carbon clock weren’t ticking so painfully loudly.
How Robots Could Jump Start the U.S. Economy
Despite all the alarms experts are sounding about the impending “end of work” thanks to automation, the trend isn’t showing up in the data. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at why some economists are now urging that we push for more automation, faster.
It’s all about productivity and globalization. Right now, in the U.S., unemployment is low, and wages are rising faster than productivity. Meanwhile, capital spending by business is at its lowest rate in 60 years. We need companies to make big long-term investments in automation to see the kinds of productivity boosts that will grow the overall economy. Otherwise, we’ll just get more of the international trend of recent decades — which saw job displacements spurred by trade with China dwarf any impact by technology investments.
This research argues for less fretting about job-stealing robots, and more automation, faster. That might be accurate. On the other hand, as Thompson admits, we’re at a peak in the economic cycle, and the biggest disruptions happen during downturns. We won’t know just how deep automation’s job-replacement knife cuts until the next big recession.
Inequality Contains the Seeds of Its Own Demise
Inequality isn’t just something that offends our sense of fairness — it’s a force that empowers the crazy rich to destabilize the world, writes Cory Doctorow in The Guardian. In Saudi Arabia, “the delusional superstitions of a tiny, super-rich elite exclude nearly 45% of the population [i.e., women] from full participation in civic life.” In the U.S., the wealth of fossil-fuel companies and investors has privileged a scientific denialism that now endangers the global environment.
Doctorow takes an optimistic view of this dynamic, because, he argues, the instabilities that inequality unleashes eventually cause inequitable systems to collapse. The spread of surveillance is a symptom of wealthy elites’ efforts to keep tabs on unrest and dissent, but it, too, is vulnerable to technologically-driven activism and counter-measures.
Both the global one percent and new self-organizing, anti-authoritarian movements can use technology as a force multiplier. We know that dynamic will end up shaping our lives — we just can’t predict how.
Court to Patents: Back Off
There was so much happening this week that it was easy to miss this story: In a case involving the refilling of printer ink cartridges, the U.S. Supreme Court restricted how companies use patents to limit what you can do with stuff you’ve purchased (Ars Technica).
The ruling in a case involving Lexmark printers cheered consumers who have long paid absurd prices for their ink, and it could lead to lower costs. But it also might drive the printer producers to seek to lock customers in through technical rather than legal means, and that could be a whole different kind of pain for users.
What’s more important is the broader “freedom to tinker” precedent the ruling sets. That might free up markets more broadly in any patent-heavy industry, from software to pharma.
Big companies took sides for and against Lexmark, but in the long run, the decision is likely to be a win for innovators and small companies. As Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes wrote: “This case has been called the Citizens United of products, but this time the Supreme Court actually came down on the side of the people instead of the corporations.”