A spirited conversation on the future of work debates the best policies for a world in significant transition.
There are many “future of work” panels, but none that have featured wealthy capitalist turned activist Nick Hanauer, author, entrepreneur and tech leader Tim O’Reilly, and policy expert and economics professor Laura Tyson. Moderated by Alexandra Suich Bass, U.S. technology editor, The Economist, this panel debates everything from universal basic income to the role of unions in modern corporations. Not to be missed. Full video and edited transcript below.
Alexandra Suich Bass: I would like to start our panel on the Future of Work in an unconventional place. Talking about the future of work can sometimes feel like watching the most depressing movie imaginable in slow motion. I’d like to ask you guys to give me some positive news. What’s something that we can be excited about as it relates to work in the future? Nick, I’ll start with you.
The Broadcom v. Qualcomm story may put you to sleep. But pay attention: A struggle for the future of free markets is afoot.
You’ve likely already heard about one of the biggest stories in tech and politics, Trump’s killing of what would have been the largest merger in technology history. From the Washington Post: “President Trump on Monday ordered Singapore-based Broadcom to abandon its $117 billion hostile bid for Qualcomm, blocking what would have been one of the biggest technology deals in history.”
Perhaps like many of you, I go MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) when I see headlines about massive chip companies like Qualcomm or Broadcom. But if you view the story in the same frame as my recent piece on the end of democratic capitalism, it suddenly gets much, much more interesting.
So clearly, this real news round up won’t get shared much.
Hello NewCo Shift Readers. It’s been a week, forgive us for the down time. The Shift Forum really swamped us, and we’ve been both recovering and preparing videos and transcripts for release beginning early next week. Oh, and our editor in chief (that’d be me) has been stoned on opioids all week, thanks to shoulder surgery (it’s harder than I thought to write on this shit, turns out). Anyway, on to today’s news round up, and we hope to return to regular columns starting next week.
We love fake news, as if we didn’t already know. This MIT study proves it. MQ: “The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence — some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years — and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.”
In bowing to China, Apple forces us to contemplate the true role of business in society
“China is likely to emerge in the next few years as the world’s largest supplier of capital.” — Brookings Institute, Jan. 2017
A clash of fundamentally competing economic philosophies broke into the mainstream news this weekend, with the fate of democratic capitalism hanging in the balance. And while it’s likely too early to call a winner, the trends are certainly not looking good for democracy as we understand it in the west.*
In capitalism, we’ve built an artificial intelligence that’s badly in need of a reboot, argues longtime tech observer Tim O’Reilly.
Reading books is good for your head, at least that’s what my mother, a middle school English teacher, drilled into me as I was growing up. I was reminded of that maxim as I was finishing Tim O’Reilly’s WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us— not because the content of the book dramatically changed my point of view (I tend to agree with O’Reilly on most topics, we were partners for years) but because the act of reading WTF clarified certain foggy notions with which I’ve been wrestling, distilling them into more concise reckonings.
WTF is not a straightforward book. It’s part memoir (Tim’s career spans four decade of tech and policy), part tech business book (a review of technological disruption and its impact on society), and part diatribe (a rant against a broken capitalist system). As you might expect, I liked the diatribe parts the best.
We keep getting it wrong when it comes to net neutrality. But the FCC’s recent vote will force a market test that just might prove what’s truly right.
If Bitcoin is the number one topic in tech and the economy this week, then net neutrality is running a very close second. The FCC’s vote this week to repeal Obama-era neutrality regulations brought a wave of protest and punditry through the web, and close readers will know that my, and NewCo Shift’s point of view on the debate aligns more with Walt Mossberg, and less with the Chairman. But I believe in rational discourse and robust debate, and to that end, I want to take a few moments to lay out the Republican point of view.
Here’s Pai’s statement outlining his defense of the repeal. In short, Pai argues that we need to move back to the “light touch” approach that the government adopted for most of the Internet’s short life. Absent government oversight, he argues, the Web developed into a fantastic organism that has benefitted all. Competition drove innovation, and that framework ought to be preserved. The doomsayers on the left will eventually be proven wrong — the market will win. Here’s a similar argument, via a NYT OpEd.
What strikes me as interesting about all this is now that net neutrality is no longer government policy, we’re going to get a true test of our much-vaunted free market. Will competition truly blossom? Will, for example, new ISPs spring up that offer “net neutrality as a service” — in opposition to the Comcasts and Verizons of the world, who likely will offer tiered bundles of services favoring their business partners? I have to admit, I find such a scenario unlikely, but to me, the silver lining is that we get to find out. And in the end, perhaps that is the only way that we can truly know whether preserving neutrality is a public good worthy of enshrinement in federal law.
Plus your morning shots of depresso from DC, StartupLand, and more
I’m going to tip toe out on a limb here and presume that most NewCo Shift readers don’t spend their after work hours perusing the aisles at Dollar General. But our featured story today takes you inside the company behind the fast growing chain, which caters to the rural working class making $40,000 or less. It’s a tour well worth taking if you want to understand troubling trends on the US economy (where everyone is winning, remember?). Dollar General makes more profit, and has a far larger market cap, than nearly all of its more well-known competitors. Why? Well, the answer there is pretty depressing.
Understanding money, inequality, and why the tax bill is important
Imagine that today you accidentally got overcharged $1 somewhere, and a week from now they realized this and gave you your dollar back. On the whole, this might be annoying, but it probably won’t be a big deal to you. Not having that dollar likely didn’t affect your life in any material way; the “opportunity cost” you lost out on could probably be well-summarized by the interest rate on a dollar for a week.
That means that an unexpected expense of $1 basically costs you $1. If you got the dollar back later, you’d be more or less where you started.
Sam Altman explores an idea with historical roots but radical implications. Money quote: “Countries that concentrate wealth in a small number of families do worse over the long term — if we don’t take a radical step toward a fair, inclusive system, we will not be the leading country in the world for much longer. This would harm all Americans more than most realize.”
The books we’re reading at NewCo as we prepare for the conversation at the Shift Forum this February
NewCo Shift is committed to identifying and exploring the most pressing issues in business and society through a new Shift Reads program. At the NewCo Shift Forum this coming February, we plan to discuss and debate solutions to those issues — even if the conversation is at times uncomfortable. If you’re interested in Shift Forum’s new Reads program, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
It took me longer than I expected to read Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and longer still to write up this review (I began reading the book when it came out this past summer). That’s not necessarily the best way to open an essay on an important topic, but at least it’s honest. While its title promises a popular history of the kind of social media activism that sparked movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the Arab Spring, the book is in fact a far more nuanced, and often academic study of the impact digital platforms have had on political change over the past two decades. But if we are to understand more recent developments such as information warfare and fake news, we must bend into the work of scholars like Tufekci.