Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ruminations 83(4) (On Information, Markets, Labor, and Politics): Looking Back on 2018 in Epigrams and Aphorisms

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

The year 2018 is ending with the great rifts opened in 2016, and exposed in 2017, now acquiring a greater urgency and show and revealing the power of its consequences. Global divisions have become more acute, even as these reflect in turn the even more acute rifts within both great and small global actors--states, societies, religions, civil society, and enterprises.

2018 is rich with rift events.  This was the year of America First and the Belt and Road Initiative.  It was the year of great rifts among allies--especially the great family of post World War II Anglo-European allies--and of growing compatibility among rivals. This was the year of the exposure corruption--in  which  Latin American corruption brought down the government of Perú and the President of Brazil. Corruption swirled around the highest levels of the United States and of China. It was the year of great social transformation spurred by revelations--of sexual improprieties, and of policing and race in the United States. It was a year in which the U.S. President continued to serve as lightening rod  and the international order was upended. But it was also a year in which Brexit appeared to invite failure. But all of this seemed like a build up to resolutions that lie beyond 2018.  In the end, 2018 might be understood as a year of stage setting  

With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2018 to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms. It follows an end of year  tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here) and 2017 (for these see here).  

This is Part 4 (On Information, Markets, Labor, and Politics). Share your own!

Ruminations 83: 2018 in Epigrams and Aphorisms
Part I (On education and knowledge).
Part 2 (On Systems).
Part 3 (On the Things that Divide and Join Us).
Part 4 (On Information, Markets, Labor, and Politics)
Part 5 (On the Games Peoples Play)

1. Information has acquired a triple character in the contemporary age; it is the foundational means for structuring efficient and legitimate markets; it is a commodity  around which production is organized; and it is the fundamental object of institutional (political) power
[("From subway trains and wind turbines to toilet seats and toasters—all sorts of devices are becoming sources of data. The world will bristle with connected sensors, so that people will leave a digital trail wherever they go, even if they are not connected to the internet. As Paul Sonderegger, a big-data strategist at Oracle, a software-maker, puts it: “Data will be the ultimate externality: we will generate them whatever we do.”") Data is giving rise to a new economy]

2. If the foundation of the current era is information, then its fundamental contradiction is transparency, the paradoxes of which define the dynamic element of markets, institutions (including the state), and production .
[("But Google is not a consumer software company, or even a search company. It’s an ad company. It collects exhaustive data about its users in the service of brokering ad sales around the web. To do so, Google requires an extensive understanding of the backgrounds, browsing habits, preferences, purchases, and lives of as many web users as possible, gleaned through massive data aggregation and analysis.") The Privacy Battle to Save Google From Itself; ("Another way to put this is to say that information, data and the unbounded flow of more and more speech can be politicized — it can, that is, be woven into a narrative that constricts rather than expands the area of free, rational choice. When that happens — and it will happen often — transparency and the unbounded flow of speech become instruments in the production of the very inequalities (economic, political, educational) that the gospel of openness promises to remove."‘Transparency’ Is the Mother of Fake News)

3.  Privacy is the name given to mechanisms for withholding clusters of rules a contingent privilege; it merely suggests that individuals and entities withhold data from others unless it is needed; but this is neither privilege nor right, just a stricture for managing information flows and their use. . 
[("The increasing gap between the ability of law enforcement to lawfully access data and their ability to acquire and use the content of that data is a pressing international concern that requires urgent, sustained attention and informed discussion on the complexity of the issues and interests at stake.") Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption]
4. The contradiction of information in markets is between an identity among generation and consumption (all actors generate and consume without impediment), and information symmetries between producers and consumers, grounded in power and supported by law
[("The data-driven system would help meet market objectives by effectively extending financing options to the country’s large unbanked population, and ideological objectives by addressing rampant corruption, profiteering, and mistrust in the country—or as early documents promised, to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”") China's Great Social Credit Leap Forward; ("Today, social credit is once again a reality. Everything from the information that we are shown to the prices and opportunities we’re offered are wrapped up in the byzantine way the digital world curates identity. We have easy access to our credit scores, and know the way to improve them. When it comes to the online world, this isn’t nearly so straightforward. Who is gathering data about us, how is it used and what does this mean for the way that we perceive the digital world around us; all of these questions are far from clear.") We’re closer to China’s disturbing ‘Social Credit System’ than you realize; Next Generation Law: Data Driven Governance and Accountability Based Regulatory Systems in the West, and Social Credit Regimes in China]

5. As markets and governance merge, the contradictions of information grow.
[("The UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said Facebook was a huge part of public, civil and private life, and the government used it to disseminate information to the public. “Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” she told reporters, adding that Facebook had helped the impoverished country but had also been used to spread hate speech. “It was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said.") Myanmar: UN blames Facebook for spreading hatred of Rohingya]

6. Information without analytics is a valuable tool for markets, but less for the state.   
[("Sri Lanka had high literacy rates but poor information literacy, he added, making the problem more acute. “It means the population can read and write but tends to immediately believe and uncritically respond to that which they see on social media,” he said.") Sri Lanka accuses Facebook over hate speech after deadly riots; ("Indian authorities are scrambling to combat a spate of murders linked to rumours circulating on messaging application WhatsApp. Eight people have been killed across the country in the past few days, after rumours spread on the app about child kidnappers on the loose and a video was circulated that purported to show a boy being snatched.")'WhatsApp murders': India struggles to combat crimes linked to messaging service].

7.  This triple character of information is shared with individuals, who are a commodity around which production is organized; who are the objects of institutional (political) power; and who play an essential role in the efficiency and legitimacy of markets (though consumption and investment).
[("Platforms can be designed to favor one side of the market over the other. Specifically, labor markets may be set up to favor employers at the expense of workers, since employers are harder to find than workers in most cases. This is a result of an array of small, seemingly inconsequential design decisions that together make it too hard for workers to find jobs they really want to do, so they settle for the job they can easily find.") Online labor markets may look competitive. They aren’t]

8. The identity between individuals and information is the fundamental ordering principle of the emerging global order.
[("What has changed? Smartphones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable. Whether you are going for a run, watching TV or even just sitting in traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace—more raw material for the data distilleries.") The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data

9. Individuals and information become fungible, in the sense that individuals can be understood as the sum of a stream of information generation, and information generation can itself constitute the individual from which it is produced as well as its environment.
[("Commodification forms are exemplified by the economic policies of Cuba and N. Korea.  Both states see in their workers a commodity that can be leased to others. . . . Abstraction forms are exemplified by the encouragement of labor migration targeted to certain areas for the purpose of generating remittances home. The export of domestic labor abroad, then, serves to generate wealth at home  through the expectation that such exported labor will send home whatever cash they can. The individual laborer, then, is transformed to an income stream, the present value of which serves as an important element in macro-economic policy. ") The Commodification of Labor and the Price of Labor Wage Remittances: Venkatesh Nayak on "RTI reveal: More than 10 Indian workers died every day in Gulf countries in the last six years; 117 deaths for every US$ 117 remitted"]

10. The feedback loop between people and information, between generator and consumer, between essence and activity, serves as the foundation for the contradiction of markets, production and power; to manage individuals one need only access their information, to manage information one need only have access the individual.
[("Facebook gave Netflix, Spotify and the Royal Bank of Canada the ability to read, write and delete users’ private messages; it gave Microsoft, Sony and Amazon the ability to obtain email addresses of their users’ friends as late as 2017; and it gave device manufacturers such as Apple the ability to build special features that plugged into the social network. The New York Times investigation revealed that it had itself been one of the companies granted access to some of the Facebook user data.") Facebook shared private user messages with Netflix and Spotify

11. Information, like people, have to be carefully husbanded--by markets, by institutions, and in production--to maintain a balance between consumption and generation; but the contradiction--balance is impossible between production and generation of individuals or information where markets, systems, or production consume and generate information to different ends.    
[(American social credit regimes grounded on private sector driven robust markets for data; "The purported multi-million dollar agreement allows the Californian search company to link the purchases of Mastercard customers to their email addresses.These addresses are used to identify customers' online activity – and track the adverts they have seen on webpages and inside mobile apps.Google uses this information to determine whether the adverts successfully influenced their shopping habits in the real-world.") Google 'paid millions to Mastercard to track credit card spending' to find out whether people are being successfully influenced by its online adverts]

12. A people, a political or social community, is now only the sum of its DNA; one is nothing more than the sum of information located within collectively organized genetic codes deployed fopr the greater glory of the state, or at least its articulated interest.
[("“Un 70 % de la información genética proviene de ancestros europeos, alrededor de un 20 % por ciento proviene de esclavos africanos que fueron traídos a Cuba, o sea de nuestros ancestros africanos, un 8 % —lo cual no es subestimable— viene de nuestros aborígenes, de nuestros primeros habitantes de la Isla, y cerca de un 2 % por ciento de los chinos, de los asiáticos que fueron traídos a Cuba ya fundamentalmente en el siglo XIX… Todos los cubanos sin lugar a dudas somos mestizos independientemente del color de la piel que tengamos o que se visibiliza”. Son declaraciones de la Dra. C. Beatriz Marcheco Teruelo, directora del Centro de Genética Médica, institución fundada por iniciativa del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz y que acaba de cumplir el pasado 5 de agosto sus primeros 15 años de vida.") ¿De dónde venimos los cubanos según estudios de ADN? [""70% of the genetic information comes from European ancestry, around 20% percent comes from African slaves that were brought to Cuba, that is from our African ancestors, 8% - which is not underestimated - comes from our aborigines, of our first inhabitants of the Island, and about 2% of the Chinese, of the Asians who were brought to Cuba and mainly in the nineteenth century ... All Cubans without a doubt are mestizos regardless of the color of the skin that we have or that becomes visible ". These are statements by Dr. C. Beatriz Marcheco Teruelo, director of the Center for Medical Genetics, an institution founded on the initiative of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz and which has just celebrated its 15th anniversary on August 5."]; "The Cuban nation constitutes its own indigenous people. The problem of the Indian or other native peoples are those of other states. There is an irony here. For it appears that only states unsuccessful in obliterating their native peoples—in fact or effectively—are to be subject to its strictures. Even Mexico appeared to seek refuge within a more complex version of this stance. The uses of this stance of indigenous nation without Indians is used to good effect in the many programs devised by Cuba in opposition to the interests of the United States." From Hatuey to Che: Indigenous Cuba Without Indians and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

13.  Everyone makes lists; most put the to use--basic data driven decision making.
[("‘ White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the stunning move from the White House briefing room podium as the building was engulfed in controversy over the new tell-all book penned by former aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman. . . . . John Brennan is a stain on the Country, we deserve better than this,' Bongino said. Trump told him, 'Thank you Dan, and good luck with the book!' Sanders was the face of the clearance dispute on Wednesday after making the announcement about Brennan at a briefing where she withstood repeated questioning about why each of the officials targeted for review has been a prominent Trump critic or otherwise features in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.. . . . "I know some things that the Russians were involved in, but I certainly don’t know all the things that Mr. Trump has been involved in over the years, and I do not pretend to have that knowledge,’ he continued. ‘He is the one, but clearly his actions are those of somebody who is seeking to prevent the full light of day being shown upon his past,’ Brennan said, clearly linking the decision on his clearance to Mueller’s probe.") 'Trying to silence me is a pointless abuse of power:' John Brennan condemns Trump for stripping him of security clearance and calling him 'frenzied' – as attempt to muzzle critics appears timed to distract from Omarosa debacle]

14. The political systems, left and right, always find a way to converge action around fundamental interests and identities.
[("The moves follow a “law on Islam”, passed in 2015, which banned foreign funding of religious groups and created a duty for Muslim organizations to have “a positive fundamental view towards (Austria’s) state and society”.“Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who, in a previous job as minister in charge of integration, steered the Islam bill into law.") Austria to shut down mosques, expel foreign-funded imams; ("The closure of mosques in Weishan followed a series of crackdowns and harassment against Muslims which has involved the closures of mosques and Arabic-language schools in Ningxia and Gansu – both Hui Muslim heartlands in the north of China – after President Xi Jinping’s call to “Sinicise religion” and bring it under the authority of the Communist Party.") Chinese authorities close three Hui Muslim mosques for ‘illegal religious education’

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