It’s been another great week of remarkable stories on NewCo Shift. This time we highlight thoughtful commentary on what it means to be financially stable, the “Matt Lauers” of the world, California politics, Etsy’s public market travails, and much more.
NewCo Shift also sources and edits extraordinary stories into Medium’s membership area, which is on a “metered paywall” similar to the New York Times. Anyone can read them, until they hit their limit. We’re including them in our roundup so you know about this great work.
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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.
Remember the uproar over the Trump administration’s briefly floated idea of slapping a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a border wall? (It’s okay if you don’t! Yeah, this was only last week, but there’s way too much to keep up with right now.) It turns out that the clumsily introduced tariff plan was actually a garbled presentation of a longstanding Republican proposal for a “border adjustment” tax (Quartz). The idea is to eliminate the current corporate income tax and replace it with, among other things, a broad 20 percent tax on all imports — effectively, substituting a tax on consumer spending for a tax on corporate profits.
Why would anyone want to do that? People across the political spectrum tend to agree that the U.S.’s corporate tax structure is busted: In theory its rates are high, but in practice companies get away with paying a lot less — often by parking profits overseas. Border adjustment is a plan embraced by conservative economists and lawmakers to keep money coming in to the federal coffers and encourage companies to repatriate their cash hoards while revamping the business tax structure. It’s part of a larger tax-reform scheme on the GOP policy roadmap that resembles the VAT (value-added tax) many European countries use, and it has implications for everything from international currency exchange to the price of eggs.
Big or small, simple or complicated, no business or business owner gets excited at the thought of being audited. One way to lower the pain of a company audit is to prepare ahead of time and the key to doing so is to have the right accounting and tax software in place.
ISIS turns toy drones into killing machines. On the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is using hobbyist drones — the kind you can buy on Amazon — to send explosive devices behind enemy lines. Last week they used one to kill two Kurdish fighters (The Washington Post). The development is hardly a surprise; from the smelting of bronze to the splitting of atoms, humanity has always turned its technological breakthroughs into war-fighting tools. The U.S., of course, has been deploying relatively large killer drones for a decade. Now we’re seeing this type of combat make the equivalent of a transition from mainframe to PC scale — and it’s going to be in everyone’s hands. In warfare as in any other kind of competition, every time an innovation comes along, you need to weigh how someone with ill intent might use it against you. Because, sooner or later, they will. As technology writer James Gleick asked on Twitter: “Did we think we were going to perfect a cheap, lethal technology and keep it to ourselves?”
Obama wants a government stake in our AI future. As artificial intelligence and machine learning move into the mainstream of our lives, driving our cars and our business decisions, how do we make sure they have human values embedded in them? President Obama ponders that question in conversation with MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito (the interview is part of the issue of Wired that Obama has guest-edited). There have been times, during Obama’s eight years in the Oval Office, that you might have mistaken the president, a formidably rational decision-maker with a Spock-like cool, for an AI himself. Here he talks about open data, cyber-security, and post-automation employment with an easy familiarity and depth that suggests his interest lies deeper than a briefing memo. If we rely only on the private sector to build the AI future, Obama warns, we could end up with systems that don’t fully represent our society. As Ito says, “It’s been a predominately male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings.” Obama’s response: “If we want the values of a diverse community represented in these breakthrough technologies, then government funding has to be a part of it.” Today the White House also released two reports on AI (Quartz), focusing on human-machine collaboration, how to boost jobs, and ethics and transparency.