Too Many Companies Drain Value From the Economy | Bloomberg Opinion

Source: Too Many Companies Drain Value From the Economy | Bloomberg Opinion, by Noah Smith

How much of this increase in market value was due to rent extraction, or to the expectation of future rent extraction?

it’s possible that big companies are increasing their market power by using lobbying to capture politicians and regulators. If this is true, it’s very bad news for free markets and capitalism. … Why exactly big companies and their lobbyists might have become more successful in bending regulation to their will since 2000 is still a mystery, but it’s a phenomenon that deserves more attention and investigation.

America’s Monopoly Crisis Hits the Military | The American Conservative

Source: America’s Monopoly Crisis Hits the Military | The American Conservative, by Matt Stoller and Lucas Kunce

the destruction of America’s once vibrant military and commercial industrial capacity in many sectors has become the single biggest unacknowledged threat to our national security. Because of public policies focused on finance instead of production, the United States increasingly cannot produce or maintain vital systems upon which our economy, our military, and our allies rely.

As part of his case for higher budgets, Mattis told Congress that “our military remains capable, but our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare—air, land, sea, space, and cyber.” In some cases, our competitive edge has not just been eroded, but is at risk of being—or already is—surpassed. … And yet, the U.S. military budget, even at stalled levels, is still larger than the next nine countries’ budgets combined. So there’s a second natural follow-up question: is the defense budget the primary reason our military advantage is slipping away, or is it something deeper?

“The national ability to produce is a national treasure. If you can’t produce you won’t consume, and you can’t defend yourself.”

— Bill Hickey

First, in the 1980s and 1990s, Wall Street financiers focused on short-term profits, market power, and executive pay-outs over core competencies like research and production, often rolling an industry up into a monopoly producer. Then, in the 2000s, they offshored production to the lowest cost producer.

When Wall Street targeted the commercial industrial base in the 1990s, the same financial trends shifted the defense industry. … financial pressure led to a change in focus for many in the defense industry—from technological engineering to balance sheet engineering. The result is that some of the biggest names in the industry have never created any defense product. Instead of innovating new technology to support our national security, they innovate new ways of creating monopolies to take advantage of it. … Fleecing the Defense Department is big business. … It is no wonder our military capacities are ebbing, despite the large budget outlays—the money isn’t going to defense.

The United States has, for instance, lost much of its fasteners and casting industries, which are key inputs to virtually every industrial product. It has lost much of its capacity in grain oriented flat-rolled electrical steel, a specialized metal required for highly efficient electrical motors. Aluminum that goes into American aircraft carriers now often comes from China.

In September 2018, the Department of Defense released findings of its analysis into its supply chain. … The report listed dozens of militarily significant items and inputs with only one or two domestic producers, or even none at all. .. Mortar tubes, for example, are made on just one production line, and some Marine aircraft parts are made by just one company—one which recently filed for bankruptcy.

the seldom-discussed background to our dependence on China for rare earths is that, just like with telecom equipment, the United States used to be the world leader in the industry until the financial sector shipped the whole thing to China. … China has a near-complete monopoly on rare earth elements, and the U.S. military, according to U.S. government studies, is now 100 percent reliant upon China for the resources to produce its advanced weapon systems.

[Representative Carol Shea-Porter] recounted a CEO once telling her, in response to her concern about the outsourcing of defense industry parts, that he “[has] to answer to stockholders.” Who are these stockholders that CEOs are so compelled to answer to? Oftentimes, China.

China has systematically targeted U.S. greenfield investments, “technology goods (especially semiconductors), R&D networks, and advanced manufacturing.” … “China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in the U.S. increased some 800% between 2009 and 2015,” she wrote. Then, from 2015 to 2017, “Chinese FDI in the U.S. …climbed nearly four-fold, reaching roughly $45.6 billion in 2016, up from just $12.8 billion in 2014.”

CEOs not being able to worry about national security because they have to answer to the Chinese should elevate the issue to the top of our national security discussion.

the problems—diminished innovation, marginal quality, higher prices, less redundancy, dependence on overseas supply chains, a lack of defense industry competition, and reduced investment in research and development—are not independent. They are the result of the financialization of industry and of monopoly.

We must begin once again to recognize that private industrial capacity is a vital national security asset … a public good and short-term actors on Wall Street have become a serious national security vulnerability.

The Gig Economy Is White People [Re-]Discovering Servants | Medium

Source: The Gig Economy Is White People Discovering Servants | Medium, by Indi Samarajiva

If you strip away the hype and get to the core functionality, the gig economy is just a distributed servant class. … The gig economy is just white people re-discovering servants. … It offers the same conveniences as centuries past, or developing countries now, but also comes with the same economic and ethical issues. As much AI or even automation as you throw at it, you still have poorer people doing stuff you don’t want to do for not really enough money. … [gig economy companies] deliver convenience, not prosperity. … For countries that haven’t [recently] had servants the difference seems truly revolutionary, but in reality they are just stepping back into the developing world, hiding the ugly parts behind a gilded screen.

Book Review: The Secret Of Our Success | Slate Star Codex

Source: Book Review: The Secret Of Our Success | Slate Star Codex, by Scott Alexander

RE: Tradition is Smarter Than You Are | The Scholar’s Stage (book review of The Secret Of Our Success), by Tanner Greer

RE: The Secret Of Our Success, by anthropologist Joseph Henrich

“Culture is the secret of humanity’s success” sounds like the most vapid possible thesis. The Secret Of Our Success by anthropologist Joseph Henrich manages to be an amazing book anyway.

Henrich wants to debunk (or at least clarify) a popular view where humans succeeded because of our raw intelligence. In this view, we are smart enough to invent neat tools that help us survive and adapt to unfamiliar environments.

Against such theories: we cannot actually do this. Henrich walks the reader through many stories about European explorers marooned in unfamiliar environments. These explorers usually starved to death. They starved to death in the middle of endless plenty. Some of them were in Arctic lands that the Inuit considered among their richest hunting grounds. Others were in jungles, surrounded by edible plants and animals. One particularly unfortunate group was in Alabama, and would have perished entirely if they hadn’t been captured and enslaved by local Indians first.

Hunting and gathering is actually really hard.

Rationalists always wonder: how come people aren’t more rational? How come you can prove a thousand times, using Facts and Logic, that something is stupid, and yet people will still keep doing it?

Henrich hints at an answer: for basically all of history, using reason would get you killed.

Humans evolved to transmit culture with high fidelity. And one of the biggest threats to transmitting culture with high fidelity was Reason. Our ancestors lived in Epistemic Hell, where they had to constantly rely on causally opaque processes with justifications that couldn’t possibly be true, and if they ever questioned them then they might die. Historically, Reason has been the villain of the human narrative, a corrosive force that tempts people away from adaptive behavior towards choices that “sounded good at the time”.

Why are people so bad at reasoning? For the same reason they’re so bad at letting poisonous spiders walk all over their face without freaking out. Both “skills” are really bad ideas, most of the people who tried them died in the process, so evolution removed those genes from the population, and successful cultures stigmatized them enough to give people an internalized fear of even trying.

 

More:
Epistemic Learned Helplessness | Slate Star Codex, by Scott Alexander
Asymmetric Weapons Gone Bad | Slate Star Codex, by Scott Alexander

Shoshana Zuboff Explains the Age of Surveillance Capitalism | The Intercept

Source: “A Fundamentally Illegitimate Choice”: Shoshana Zuboff on the Age of Surveillance Capitalism | The Intercept, by Sam Biddle

RE: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Shoshana Zuboff

The cliched refrain that if you’re “not paying for a product, you are the product”? Too weak, says Zuboff. You’re not technically the product, she explains over the course of several hundred tense pages, because you’re something even more degrading: an input for the real product, predictions about your future sold to the highest bidder so that this future can be altered.

Now we have markets of business customers that are selling and buying predictions of human futures. I believe in the values of human freedom and human autonomy as the necessary elements of a democratic society. As the competition of these prediction products heats up, it’s clear that surveillance capitalists have discovered that the most predictive sources of data are when they come in and intervene in our lives, in our real-time actions, to shape our action in a certain direction that aligns with the kind of outcomes they want to guarantee to their customers. That’s where they’re making their money. These are bald-faced interventions in the exercise of human autonomy, what I call the “right to the future tense.” The very idea that I can decide what I want my future to be and design the actions that get me from here to there, that’s the very material essence of the idea of free will.

to the extent that we do need help and we do look to the internet, it is a fundamentally illegitimate choice that we are now forced to make as 21st century citizens. In order to get the help I need, I’ve got to march through surveillance capitalism supply chains. Because Alexa and Google Home and every other gewgaw that has the word “smart” in front of it, every service that has “personalized” in front of it is nothing but supply chain interfaces for the flow of raw material to be translated into data, to be fashioned into prediction products, to be sold in behavioral futures markets so that we end up funding our own domination. If we’re gonna fix this, no matter how much we feel like we need this stuff, we’ve got to get to a place where we are willing to say no.