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Monday, October 17, 2005

You don't hire the arsonist to rebuild the house she burned down

Here's some shocking news: rich and poor people see poverty differently. According to a report in the Guardian, it turns out that rich people are much more likely to see poverty as a result of not working hard, while the poor are much more likely to see it as resulting from things out of their control.
``We're looking more and more like a developing country,'' said Luz Vega-Marquis, president of the [Marguerite Casey] foundation. ``We have a concentration of wealth in the top 5 percent, but what is happening to the middle-class and poor people?''
It comes as no surprise that rich people would consider their wealth and privilege as earned rather than inherited or the result of social networks, better access to resources like schooling, jobs and health care, white or gender privilege or just because they stand astride a system that takes from the bottom and distributes it upwards into their bank accounts. And yet, social mobility remains quite limited in America. As the Economist reported in late 2004,
Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.

Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.
That's not to defend the old disparities in wealth. That's a liberal argument. We ought to be aiming for zero disparity, which can only be achieved through seizing of the means of production, deposing the rich and redistributing their wealth. Let's not get all teary-eyed for a past that was rife with inequality, but it is instructive to consider current trends.

In another sign of the growing inequality, the UAW has signed a deal with GM which shifts more of the health care costs onto its workers. Externalizing these costs will doubtless save the company a lot of money. Too bad the workers aren't cars - they could benefit from GM's generous warranty program.

Partly thanks to GM's externalization of the environmental impact of its product, the online journal of the National Academy of Science reports that in the coming century,
the southwest United States could endure as much as a 500 percent increase in hot events, leaving less water for the growing population, that the Gulf Coast region would receive more rainfall in shorter time spans and that summers in the northeast would be shorter and hotter.
But all is not lost. According to a story in the Independent, scientists hope that the European probe to Venus will help them "understand the nature of the intense greenhouse effect heating Venus." Sounds great, but if an arsonist burned down your house, would you hire her to rebuild it? Scientists bear much blame for the current state of the environment, why should we trust them to fix it? You don't need to send a probe to Venus to know that the only way out of this mess is to end this ruinous experiment with industrialism and technological society.

Scientists report more of the obvious in another Independent article: "High rates of air pollution... may be linked to increased rates of miscarriage." But then science has been at war with women's bodies for a long time, hasn't it.

Computerworld has an interesting interview with the CEO of ActivMedia, a robotics company. Hilariously-- and unironically -- sub-titled, ActivMedia's Jeanne Dietsch says mobile robots make good corporate citizens, Dietsch pimps her company's latest invention, "the PatrolBot... a roving security device that includes audio, a navigational laser, a video camera and other sensors." Designed to be relatively autonomous, some versions can
set up what's called a laser checkbox, and if anyone walks through this particular area, the robot will notify the guard. Some of the robots have some sort of access control system, a card reader or iris scanner on them. So they can say, "You must identify yourself now."
And there's more.
If you have the system integration module, you can link up with a third-party control system. In that case, if it's integrated, the Honeywell alarm can call the robot to the door. Eventually you'll be able to follow the person, but now it just tells the person, "You must swipe your card." It can notify the alarm system of its location.
In a case of one's own technology coming back to bite you in the ass, the New Zealand Herald reports on an article from the Independent that a series of bombs that have killed British troops in Basra, Iraq, recently came not from Iran, as the Brits have claimed. Instead, it seems that "the bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers were initially created by the British security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy in the early 1990s."
"The thinking of the security forces was that if they were intimate with the technology, then they could develop counter-measures, thereby staying one step ahead of the IRA," a senior source close to the inquiry explained. "It may seem absurd that the security services were supplying technology to the IRA, but the strategy was sound.

"Unfortunately, no one could see back then that this technology would be used to kill British soldiers thousands of miles away in a different war."
I'm not posting this to imply opposition to the rights of self-determination or self-defense for Iraqis or the Irish. But just how long are we going to allow these governments to continue to externalize the unpredictable costs of their imperialist and technological ambitions? You don't hire the arsonist to rebuild the house he burned down.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Sat Dec 10, 10:16:00 PM 2005  

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