The New Yorker’s George Packer deftly riffs off both Charles Murray’s new book on turmoil in the white lower and working classes and Sunday’s enormous New York Times story on the cognitive dissonance of conservatives who decry government spending but depend on it:
Visit most towns or rural areas where factories are boarded up and all the economic life is confined to strip malls, and you have to acknowledge the force of Murray’s picture. Rampant drug use, high dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, epidemic obesity, every other working-age person on disability—it’s true even though Charles Murray says it’s true. And the predictable left-right argument over causes and solutions doesn’t help. Is it disappearing jobs, or disappearing values? This isn’t an analytical choice I find very useful. Jobs and values are intertwined: when one starts to go, the other is likely to go with it, and the circle becomes truly vicious. A textile factory moves south of the border, and a town loses its mainstay of employment. Former textile workers scurry to find fast-food and retail positions. The move from blue-collar to service work is brutal, and over time some employees lose the will to stick it out in a hateful job. Their children do even worse. Soon enough there are two or three generations of one family on government help, and kids grow up without a model of the work ethic. When a technology plant opens in the area (with a fifth the number of jobs as the textile factory), few locals are remotely qualified to work there. It’s a dismally familiar story—but is it a story of jobs or values? The obvious answer is both, which is why no one’s five-point solutions or three-word slogan is convincing.
— The Guardian looks at how likely it is that News Corporation executives could be charged in the U.S. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
News Corp. certainly seems to think it’s not so unlikely—or at least it’s not leaving anything to chance:
Professor John Coffee, a specialist in white-collar crime at Columbia law school in New York, said that executives were at risk of prosecution in cases where they failed to ask relevant questions about a suspicious persistent pattern of payments. He gave the metaphorical example of a driver used by a Mexican drugs cartel to transport cocaine across the border who was aware that the vehicle contained a secret storage panel but made no attempt to find out what packages had been placed inside.
As part of its response to the billowing phone hacking scandal, News Corp has amassed the most formidable team of FCPA lawyers ever assembled. “They have appointed not just one of the best lawyers in this field, they have appointed most of the best lawyers,” Coffee said.
“That’s not normal defensive strategy,” he added.
— Reuters’s Chrystia Freeland has a good column in the NYT on the rise of, reviewing a novel on the rise of intelligent machines, The Fear Index, and a McKinsey Quarterly article called “The Second Economy”, written by W. Brian Arthur:
Mr. Arthur’s contention is that a second, machine-to-machine economy is emerging and that it will bring deep economic, social and political change comparable to the transformation wrought by the Industrial Revolution.
“Business processes that once took place among human beings are now being executed electronically,” Mr Arthur writes. “They are taking place in an unseen domain that is strictly digital. On the surface, this shift doesn’t seem particularly consequential — it’s almost something we take for granted. But I believe it is causing a revolution no less important and dramatic than that of the railroads. It is quietly creating a second economy, a digital one.”
Mr. Arthur describes this economy as “vast, silent, connected, unseen and autonomous (meaning that human beings may design it but are not directly involved in running it).” The second economy is manifest in transactions as quotidian as checking in for a flight with a machine and as esoteric as the algorithm hedge funds of Mr. Harris’s thriller, which use information produced by machines to trade with other machines.
Freeland and Arthur both worry that it is lessening the need for human labor.