Audit Notes: Glass-Steagall II, beyond paywalls, warehouse work

The FT comes out in favor of hiving off investment banks

This is important: The Financial Times editorial page comes out in favor of a Glass-Steagall II that would once again separate investment banking from commercial/retail banking:

The clash between retail and investment banking has always been evident. What is now clear, however, is that the hard-charging, revenue-seeking investment banking culture predominates when they are pushed together. The more herbivorous retail banking ethos - with its emphasis on patient stewardship - is marginalised. This seems to lead ineluctably to the proliferation of socially questionable trading activities and abuses such as the Libor scandal.

The government accepted the principle of separation last year when it endorsed the conclusions of the banking commission presided over by Sir John Vickers. This argued for an internal split rather than a total separation on the basis that the diversity of assets within a universal bank could be a source of strength at times of financial stress.

While the FT supported those conclusions, we are now ready to go further. For all the diversification benefits, the cultural tensions between investment and retail banking can only be resolved by totally separating the two, on formal Glass-Steagall-style lines.

Good for them.

— At the Nieman Journalism Lab, Ken Doctor talks about the implications of the recent moves by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to charge or allow subscription access on third-party aggregators:

The deals seemed out of the blue, but both represent a maturation in digital circulation thinking. We’re moving beyond Paywalls 1.0, to a more nuanced world of digital circulation. The WSJ/Pulse deal took about four months to get done, while NYT/Flipboard took longer. We could say, though, that both deals took more than 15 years.

Why? The idea that news companies could get paid as someone read their valuable, and expensive-to-produce, news content on an aggregator sites seemed a distant dream. First, of course, news companies had to make the critical decision to charge for digital access to their content, a movement now sweeping the globe. The enduring principle, just re-learned by news companies in the past three years: If money isn’t flowing, you can’t get a share of it. That’s a corollary of this truism: If you don’t charge them, they won’t pay you.

Now digital circulation has opened up whole new horizons, not just for news companies, but, surprisingly, for the aggregators like Flipboard and Pulse. These companies started up with germs of ideas that the tablet offered new ways for readers to enjoy reading. Neither had much of an idea of how to make money, and both are still in the early stages of proving out business models. They may pass the way of tablet aggregator Zite, acquired by CNN, or emerge as bigger, independent companies. Now, though, owing to money moving where it hadn’t before, it’s not only the Journal and the Times can figure out new ways to money — so can the startups.

— Last week, Glenn Beck criticized Mother Jones for its good first-hand story by Mac McClelland on working in an Amazon-style warehouse:

(MoJo) VOICE: People are running around all day and doing terribly non-ergonomically friendly actions over and over and over again because you have to get down on the floor to pick up where a lot of the things are stocked, and reach up on your tippy toes. All the angles are uncomfortable. Everybody has joint pain, and knee pain, and back pain. And it’s like that for 10 and a half to 12 hours a day…

( Now you might be thinking, how bad could non-ergonomically friendly working conditions be? Really, really bad. Everything is not at eye-level, and she is on her tippy toes for Pete’s sake!

“I want you to brace yourself. Imagine you’re in a place where they’ve already made you engage in ergonomically unfriendly actions. You are on your tippy toes from time to time reaching down to pick things up off the floor,” Glenn said before playing another piece of this tragedy.

I wouldn’t ever pay to watch Glenn Beck on TV, but I’d fork over good money to see him work in one of these warehouses for ten bucks an hour.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,