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Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

But there’s a third party that’s often glossed over: the customer. The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile — even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they — we — can be entitled jerks.

From “The ratings game” by Josh Dzieza in The Verge. 

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Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

I witness this in my work all the time. More complex problems in the world have led to the need for much more sophisticated problem solving techniques.. And those techniques require empathy, something in short supply among a lot of traditional high achievers in the workplace.

From “Google finds STEM skills aren’t the most important” by Lou Glazer in Michigan Future. 

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I love this article.. it described my experience of the 90s perfectly – right down to the economics thesis I ended up writing and the online zines I produced and the ways in which my radicalism was ultimately challenged. And it describes perfectly my concerns with where we are now. I recommend reading “No Alternative – how culture jamming was culture jammed” by Gavin Mueller in Real Life.

In the wake of Trump’s election, intellectuals and politicos have not enjoined us to create a “counterproject” media sphere to combat hegemonic ideology. They have not told us to hack, snipe, poach, or otherwise take to the semiotic hills to wage guerrilla war. Instead, we’ve been told to bolster capitalist media: to subscribe to the New York Times, to dutifully consume advertisements by whitelisting our favorite sites, to obtain our music from commercial platforms — so the artists get paid, of course.

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One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.

It’s not hard to see parallels between the three dimensions of perfectionism and so-called “call-out culture,” lately the hegemonic tendency on the Left: a condition in which everyone watches everyone else for a fatal slip-up, holding themselves to impossibly high standards of virtuous self-effacement, and being paralyzed with the secret (again, not unfounded) fear that they’re disposable to the group, that their judgment day is around the corner. The pattern is of a piece with other manifestations of neoliberal meritocratic perfectionism, from college admissions to obsessive Instagram curation. And because it divides rather than unites us, it’s no way to build a movement that ostensibly seeks to strike at the heart of power.

Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society. It’s a gargantuan task — but with the vise-grip of neoliberalism tightening on our psyches, it’s the only way forward.

From “Under neo-liberalism, you can be your own tyrannical boss” by Megan Day in Jacobin. 

This is a theme I have been banging on about for a while, so let’s just add this as another good article for the collection.

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There has been a lot written about poverty and its effects on how parents feed their children – food affordability, cheap calories, risk-taking and new foods etc – but this article picks up on something else important that hasn’t been said so much…

An overwhelming majority of the wealthy parents told me that they routinely said “no” to requests for junk food. In 96% of high-income families, at least one parent reported that they regularly decline such requests.

Poor parents honored their kids’ junk food requests to nourish them emotionally, not to harm their health.

Parents from poor families, however, almost always said “yes” to junk food. Only 13% of low-income families had a parent that reported regularly declining their kids’ requests.

One reason for this disparity is that kids’ food requests meant drastically different things to the parents.

For parents raising their kids in poverty, having to say “no” was a part of daily life. Their financial circumstances forced them to deny their children’s requests — for a new pair of Nikes, say, or a trip to Disneyland — all the time. This wasn’t tough for the kids alone; it also left the poor parents feeling guilty and inadequate.

Next to all the things poor parents truly couldn’t afford, junk food was something they could often say “yes” to. Poor parents told me they could almost always scrounge up a dollar to buy their kids a can of soda or a bag of chips. So when poor parents could afford to oblige such requests, they did.

Honoring requests for junk food allowed poor parents to show their children that they loved them, heard them and could meet their needs. As one low-income single mother told me: “They want it, they’ll get it. One day they’ll know. They’ll know I love them, and that’s all that matters.”

Junk food purchases not only brought smiles to kids’ faces, but also gave parents something equally vital: a sense of worth and competence as parents in an environment where those feelings were constantly jeopardized.

To wealthy parents, kids’ food requests meant something entirely different. Raising their kids in affluent environment, wealthy parents were regularly able to meet most of their children’s material needs and wants. Wealthy parents could almost always say “yes,” whether it was to the latest iPhone or a college education.

With an abundance of opportunities to honor their kids’ desires, high-income parents could more readily stomach saying “no” to requests for junk food. Doing so wasn’t always easy, but it also wasn’t nearly as distressing for wealthy parents as for poor ones.

From “Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthy?” by Priya Fielding-Singh in the Los Angeles Times. 

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This goes in some interesting and very unexpected directions… breastfeeding, single parenting and the gendered expectations of sacrifice and care work.

From “Selma Blair: I’ll lose everything, I’ll go to court, I’ll be on the right side of history” by Sophie Heawood in The Guardian. 

“I was about 34. And I thought, maybe that’s right, I’ve never loved somebody unconditionally – I’ve been in love, I’ve been in lust, I’ve been crazy about someone, but I’ve never really still… no. It rang true.” This was after her two-year marriage to Frank Zappa’s son Ahmet had ended. “And then my son had some health issues and he really needed the breast milk, so that really was my job. I thought: ‘Aaaah, I guess I can die now, I got him through that!’ But I depleted myself, too, and I’m still recovering. I still have to remind myself that my own body needs healthier fats than fried food.”

She recently bought the film rights to a novel she loved, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, which is about a woman who has been caring for her sick mother for years, but one day just gets in her car and drives, only to end up in a mysterious town where nothing grows and everything has been lost and discarded from elsewhere. “It was so simple, but also metaphysical and magic. It really lifted a veil in my mind. There are so many women to play, so much room for them.” So she wrote the proposal and is now pitching it, with her as producer and possibly as the lead. She has no other work lined up “and it feels like my only salvation. I had to do this.”

But then she started talking to men in meetings about it. “They just sit like lumps, going: ‘I don’t want to like this character because she left her mother.’ Well, one, she left her mother for a drive, and two, you can’t like a woman who’s broken her back to take care of other people her whole life? You’re not gonna follow this heroine?

“Once I had my child, I realised how unfair life has been for women. When you deal with potential custody issues, which we ended up not having, but you look into it and realise this is all geared towards men now, and the court systems usually loathe single mothers. I thought, I do not have this fight in me, I don’t know how to deal with this. We’re too powerful, so we dim our shine to get through stuff. I didn’t even realise until people started speaking up how really kind of… furious… we should be allowed to be.”

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SMILF-CraveTV.jpg

Much of the darkness stems from the cultural and economic quicksand in which Bridgette Bird (Shaw) finds herself: As a would-be hookup says to her late in the first episode, “You’re living in a small room with a 2-year-old.” Working as a part-time nanny while going on acting auditions—all while trying to raise her young child, Larry—the show follows her efforts to simply keep her little family afloat, even as she makes bad decisions, acts impulsively, and tries to renew some semblance of a sex life.

While the episodes are distinctly carved up according to various misadventures (Bridgette is stuck at work while her child needs a clinic visit, Bridgette scrambles for cash to pay overdue rent), much of the ongoing narrative unfolds like an earnest indie film, inserting abrupt character backstories and plot complications at a sporadic pace. We gradually learn that Bridgette struggles with an eating disorder, that she has nannied for the same cluelessly bourgeois family (led by a reliably great Connie Britton) for years, that she has talent as an actor. But a big part of her identity is bound up with the feeling that she’s stuck, too. After being encouraged to start a vision board by a wealthier acquaintance who assures her it will help “actualize” her dreams into reality, she asks to borrow magazines, tape, scissors—then quietly adds, “I’m gonna need a dream, too.” By the end of the third episode, the strange admixture of lacerating humor and downbeat drama has gelled into something more potent and politically savvy than the sex-centric first episode might suggest.

From “SMILF is a good show with a horrible title” by Alex McLevy in AV Club. 

I really liked this series. It captured lots about the single motherhood experience – the suffocating combinations of financial and time poverty; the lack of adult space; the penalties for sexuality; the cost of childcare ‘help’ from family; the vulnerability to judgement for your parenting; the intense intimacy between mother and child.

It’s not perfect, and it’s quite dark, but I think it is probably the best series about mothering while poor since Roseanne

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