Did the internet destroy the middle class?

Something to ponder…

You talk early in “Who Owns the Future?” about Kodak — about thousand of jobs being destroyed, and Instagram picking up the slack — but with almost no jobs produced. So give us a sense of how that happens and what the result is. It seems like the seed of your book in a way.

Right. Well, I think what’s been happening is a shift from the formal to the informal economy for most people. So that’s to say if you use Instagram to show pictures to your friends and relatives, or whatever service it is, there are a couple of things that are still the same as they were in the times of Kodak. One is that the number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn’t work if there weren’t many millions of people using it. And furthermore, many people kind of have to use social networks for them to be functional besides being valuable. People have to, there’s a constant tending that’s done on a volunteer basis so that people can find each other and whatnot.

So there’s still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It’s reputation, it’s barter, it’s that kind of stuff.

So instead of somebody paying money to get their photo developed, and somebody getting a part of a job, a little fragment of a job, at least, and retirement and all the other things that we’re accustomed to, it works informally now, and intangibly.

Yeah, and I remember there was this fascination with the idea of the informal economy about 10 years ago. Stewart Brand was talking about how brilliant it is that people get by in slums on an informal economy. He’s a friend so I don’t want to rag on him too much. But he was talking about how wonderful it is to live in an informal economy and how beautiful trust is and all that.

And you know, that’s all kind of true when you’re young and if you’re not sick, but if you look at the infant mortality rate and the life expectancy and the education of the people who live in those slums, you really see what the benefit of the formal economy is if you’re a person in the West, in the developed world. And then meanwhile this loss, or this shift in the line from what’s formal to what’s informal, doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning what’s formal. I mean, if it was uniform, and we were all entering a socialist utopia or something, that would be one thing, but the formal benefits are accruing at this fantastic rate, at this global record rate to the people who own the biggest computer that’s connecting all the people.

So Kodak has 140,000 really good middle-class employees, and Instagram has 13 employees, period. You have this intense concentration of the formal benefits, and that winner-take-all feeling is not just for the people who are on the computers but also from the people who are using them. So there’s this tiny token number of people who will get by from using YouTube or Kickstarter, and everybody else lives on hope. There’s not a middle-class hump. It’s an all-or-nothing society.

Right, and also I think part of what you’re saying too is that it’s still in most ways a formal economy in that the person who lost his job at Kodak still has to pay rent with old-fashioned money he or she is no longer earning. He can’t pay his rent with cultural capital that’s replaced it.

Yeah, well, people will say you can find a place to crash. People who tour right now will find a couch to crash on. But, you know, this is the difference … I’m not saying that there aren’t ever benefits, like yeah, sometimes you can find a couch. But as I put it in the book, you have to sing for your supper for every meal. The informal way of getting by doesn’t tide you over when you’re sick and it doesn’t let you raise kids and it doesn’t let you grow old. It’s not biologically real.

Government surveillance of the Occupy movement

A new report.

Honestly, if so-called progressives were as feisty about government intrusion as the teabaggers, this report wouldn’t fall on deaf ears. But since they’ll look at it and say they’re “not sure” what’s been proved, nothing will happen.

Because progressives treat everything like they’re in a courtroom, and not as if it’s in the court of public opinion. That’s why we always lose.

Thanks to Montgomery County Injury Lawyers, Price Benowitz LLP.

The new normal

More frequent large storms, as predicted:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A tornado half a mile wide struck near Oklahoma City on Sunday, part of a massive storm front that hammered the central United States. News reports said at least one person had died.

By early Sunday evening, 19 tornados had touched down in parts of Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to the National Weather Service and local news reports.

Fox News reported that one person was killed in Shawnee, Oklahoma, east of Oklahoma City.

Police in Shawnee could not immediately be reached to confirm the report.

Officials of the National Weather Service in Oklahoma issued a series of increasingly urgent warnings in the late afternoon and evening, including an alert on Twitter about a tornado striking Pink, a town on the edge of Oklahoma City.

“Large tornado west of Pink!” the post read. “Take cover RIGHT NOW in Pink! DO NOT WAIT!”

An extreme weather system stretching from north Texas to Minnesota had been building for hours on Sunday when a “large tornado” touched down near Wichita, Kansas at 3:45 pm Central Standard time, according to a weather service alert.

Another alert warned of the likelihood of “exceptionally powerful, severe thunderstorms capable of destructive hail as large as baseballs,” especially over southeast Kansas in the evening.

Industrial hemp

Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul are trying to legalize it.

WASHINGTON — Kentucky’s two senators, Republicans Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, have been working to include a provision that would legalize industrial hemp into the farm bill, according to Senate and Kentucky sources, an effort that is likely to result in a floor vote on the issue this week.

Paul and McConnell had hoped to insert the measure into the farm bill as it was being considered by the Agriculture Committee, but a jurisdictional spat broke out, as often does in the Senate. McConnell, a member of the committee, approached Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) last Monday night about inserting the provision, according to Senate aides, and was told that the Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction and he would need a waiver from its chairman, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). Hemp laws are the purview of the Drug Enforcement Administration, even though hemp is not a drug and has no psychoactive potential, no matter how much a person smokes.

Use it or lost it

I’m beginning to wonder if any politician is still a real liberal:

After Jim Araby’s union of grocery store workers donated millions of dollars and cranked out 7,500 three-hour volunteer shifts last fall to help elect a supermajority of Democrats to the state Legislature and win statewide ballot measures, they, like many California liberals, began to dream big.

A supermajority – one party controlling two-thirds of both chambers – meant Democrats could pass a slew of progressive laws and unilaterally raise revenues without having to cajole a single Republican to join them.

But that hasn’t happened. And now, in light of Gov. Jerry Brown’s austere revision of his state budget proposal last week and two special elections Tuesday that could dent that supermajority, some of the 160,000 members of Araby’s union and other liberals are urging Democrats to use their power “or lose it.”

“We worked hard last year to help get that supermajority,” said Araby, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which is based in Oakland.

“Right now, some of our members are wondering if they’re going to come out for some Democrats next year. Are they going to give up their off time, their Saturdays and Sundays to make calls and knock on doors if they’re not going to see a progressive agenda come out of it? We’ll see,” Araby said.

Site Meter