Category Archives: Technology and innovation

How Superstar Companies Like Apple Are Killing America’s High-Tech Future

Few would argue that America’s fortunes rise and fall on its ability to generate technological innovations — to put bold ideas to work and then bring them to market. William Lazonick, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Matt Hopkins, research associate at the Academic-Industry Research Network, have investigated how the technology knowledge base gets created, what has gone wrong in America’s approach to innovation, and why the truth about who invests in the process is poorly understood. In the interview that follows, Lazonick shares findings from two recent papers that are part of the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s project on the “Political Economy of Distribution.” He explains why successful companies like Apple need to make fundamental changes to the way they allocate resources and stop throwing away America’s most valuable asset for future innovation — you.

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Suit on Animator Wage Suppression Shows Another Face of How Capital Squeezes Labor

Mark Ames reports on the latest revelations in a major anti-trust case against Silicon Valley giants including Disney, Sony, Dreamworks, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. For tech titans, enough is apparently never enough.

The earlier chapters of this sorry saga exposed a long-standing scheme by which major tech companies including Apple, Google, Adobe, Intuit, Intel, Lucasfilm and Pixar colluded to suppress wages of an alleged one million workers. The collusion was agreed at the CEO level of all the participants and memorialized through written agreements.

A related private suit was filed last September by animator against nine movie industry heavyweights including Walt Disney Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Sony Pictures, LucasFilm and Pixar. It alleged similar conduct to the bigger Silicon Valley wage-suppression suit. Among other things, the companies not just compared pay levels but agreed to fix them, and also signed agreements not to recruit from each other.

An amended complaint in the animator suit added two studios to the complaint and far more important, exposed that the wage-fixing scheme was far longer standing that previously thought. K

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Wolf Richter: Signs That the Startup Bubble is Totally Maxed Out

Yves here. Wolf’s longer original headline to this post focused on how gobsmacked he was to get glossy mail pieces to promote supposedly hot Silicon Valley startups. Apparently, the deemed-to-be-transgressive communications medium (by West Coast standards) was a way to cut through the new venture clutter. But what I found more surprising was how obviously lame these ideas were, yet they’ve all already gotten multiple rounds of funding and have eight figure investments so far.

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Government, Not the Private Sector, Leads Innovation

This video, in which economist Mariana Mazzucato discusses her book The Entrepreneurial State, explains how most of what you think you know about innovation is wrong. Innovation is not led by the private sector; it lacks the long term horizons and risk appetite to do so. Instead, the most innovative countries and regions have the state playing a very active role, not just in funding basic research or making sure markets work properly, as in limiting anti-competitive practices that can stymie new entrants. Instead, the state plays an active role along the entire value chain. One result of the wide-spread misperception that the private sectors deserves most of the credit is that businesses are able to skim a disproportionate level of the returns for themselves.

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“The Tragedy of Electronic Medical Records”

Yves here. We’ve written about the pitfalls of electronic health records in the past. One of the surprising reactions is the “dazzled by technology” response of some readers. While there are problems with relying on paper-based records, and electronic records could in fact remedy many of them, a large swathe of the public seems unwilling to hear that what is good in theory may not turn out well in practice.

The sorry fact is that electronic health records, which in theory should reduce errors and allow for more consistent delivery of medical services, were instead designed only with patient billing and control over doctors in mind. As a result, they are if anything worsening medical outcomes. One indicator: as we reported, the latest ECRI Institute puts health care information technology as the top risk in its 2014 Patient Safety Concerns for Large Health Care Organizations report. Note that this ranking is based on the collection and analysis of over 300,000 events since 2009.

This is another example of crapification. Electronic medical records have been implemented, with apparent success, in other economics. For instance, when I lived in Australia from 2002 to 2004, it was normal for doctors to make use of them during patient visits, making entries into the system, and I never got the impression they found it onerous. Here, in New York City, I still see doctors making considerable use of paper records. As the article indicates below, the reason is the US systems are costly, lower productivity, and make doctors less likely to review patient information.

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Tech Underbelly: Indentured Servitude and Bonded Labor in the US

A labor collusion pact with the aim of suppressing pay levels among Apple, Google, Microsoft, Pixar, and others, demonstrated that the idea that Silicon Valley plays fairly is an illusion. But even more unsavory abuses occur further down the food chain. H1-B visa workers, who are generally held in low esteem in the US since they compete with Americans, take a risk when they sign up with labor brokers, even seemingly legitimate ones like Tata Consultancy, part of the giant Tata Group in India.

As the NBC video below, part of a joint investigation with the Center for Investigative Reporting, explains, the most abusive recruiters are body shops, who abuse the H1-B program by bringing in technology graduates when the firm in fact has no job lined up. The Indian immigrants are hostage, kept in guest houses where they are told not to go outside until they find work.

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Adair Turner: The Consequences of Money-Manager Capitalism

Yves here. This is a terrific interview with Lord Adair Turner, former head of the FSA. Most of it focuses on the things missed in contemporary economics, particularly macroeconomics, and how some disciplinary “back to the future” would be desirable. A major topic of discussion is how wealth is becoming as concentrated as it was in the 18th century, and the driver then and now was the disproportionately large role real estate has come to play. Then, it was income-producing agricultural land. Now it is urban property, bid up by domestic and international elites who want to live in particularly prized cities. Turner points out the irony that access to cheap finance for housing, meant to help middle and lower income buyers, has instead contributed to rising wealth inequality. He also describes how the ability of banks and financial markets to supply virtually unlimited amounts of credit, against a limited stock of particularly sought-after locations, has the potential to create tulip-mania type results.

Perhaps due to time constraints, Turner didn’t venture into the views of classical economists, that profiting from land, which they derided as rentier capitalism, was economically unproductive. As Michael Hudson has stressed, they urged heavy taxation of land as the remedy.

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Tom Englehardt Interviews Laura Poitras on Snowden and the Total Information Capture Approach to Surveillance

Yves here. This interview with Laura Poitras is a reminder of how the world has, and more important, hasn’t changed since the explosive revelations made by Edward Snowden less than a year and a half ago. Even though his disclosures produced a great uproar, with demands in the US, UK, and Europe for explanations and […]

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Evil Feedly and Digg: “Social Logins” as Symptoms of Creeping Surveillance State

Your humble blogger is a beached whale as a result of the steady march of police state practices on the Internet. And to calibrate how heinous the underlying situation is, Lambert, who has 20 years of experience as a computer professional, calls my current mess the technology equivalent of being shoved into a minefield without any signs. And as you’ll see below, I’ve already stepped on one mine.

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Lambert Talks With Tim Wu, Net Neutrality Pioneer and NY Lieutenant Governor Candidate

Yves here. Lambert interviewed Tim Wu, who is campaigning with Zephry Teachout to upset politics as usual in New York. Both are running in the New York State primary against Andrew Cuomo and his candidate for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul. The Teachout/Wu campaign against Cuomo has gone from quixotic to the most interesting state race […]

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Ballooning Finance: How Financial Innovation Produces Overgrowth and Busts

Yves here. It’s a welcome surprise to see economists devise a model that delivers generally sensible results. Here, three economists looked at how financial innovation leads to an bloated financial sector as well as greatly increasing the risk of meltdown.

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Utopian Robotics

So the robots take over the social function of providing most everything in the two layers at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiology and safety. Food, water, shelter, warmth; security, stability (for example). We’ve got robot houses, robot servants, robot cars, robot malls, robot servants, robot baristas, robot Walmart greeters, robot drivers, robot security guards, robot financial advisors, robots to make robots….

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Wolf Richter: Goal of Booming ‘Internet of Things’: Monitoring, Sensing, Remote Control – Factory Workers First, You Next

I first heard about what would later be called the Internet of Things in 1991 from Michael Hawley, who happened to be providing support for my NeXT computer. Hawley was then a graduate student at MIT and favorite of Nick Negroponte. (Hawley, who had also worked at NeXT, pointed out that having him do my tech support was tantamount to having Steve Jobs on deck). He later became a professor in the MIT Media Lab

In addition to showing me the coolness of networks (like accessing files on remote computers, which was bleeding edge back then), he was also keen about discussing digital libraries and how his belt buckle would be able to talk to his refrigerator and why that would be useful. I kept quiet about my reservations about my objects having private conversations about me.

The problem with the idea of having even more devices than your smartphone and tablet gathering information for your convenience, of course, is the many ways all that data can be used against you.

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