This is a great episode of Econtalk. Bertaud uses labour markets as a lens for thinking about cities. Helpful examples of emergent order and the challenges (impossibility?) of planning in complex adaptive systems.
Highlights (coming up) include:
Discussion of the importance of culture and context in how cities develop;
Bertaud’s explanation of his broader-than-usual understanding of labour markets;
When planning and regulation is helpful and when it’s damaging;
The trade-offs made by new arrivals in a city (and the danger of planners trying to decide these for them);
The way that property markets can turn development costs into opportunities.
Brooks is less concerned, and takes an ‘AI will take a lot longer to develop than anyone thinks’ approach to the topic, with some good points about how developing AI forces us to clarify our own ethics and priorities.
On my hit list. I’m a Russ Roberts fan and expect this will be a useful addition, in particular on “the implications and possible futures of a world where artificial intelligence is increasingly part of our lives.”
Resources in WtF from Kevin Kelly, Tim O’Reilly and James Gleick,
If you haven’t thought much about economics, this series from the BBC is a first-rate introduction to a lot of key ideas about how markets work.
Each episode is about ten minutes long and features at least one interesting, often entertaining and sometimes surprising ‘thing’ to illustrate fundamental principles of economics.
There are lessons galore about how technologies take off and spread, change culture, transform the environment (human and physical) for both good and ill, and the unpredictable nature of emergent order and complex adaptive systems.
Seasons one and two are here at the BBC, and downloadable free wherever you get your podcasts.
This is a really interesting episode of Econtalk, and worth a listen.
Highlight 1: Accurate description of poor communities
A couple of things here really resonated with my experience of living and working in low-income communities in Jakarta:
Miller’s descriptions of the resourcefulness of people in poor communities – that many people in poor communities are hard working and resourceful and demonstrating impressive amounts of willpower and – in his word – ‘talent’ just to get by on low incomes.
The dynamism of poor communities, particularly in terms of people moving in and out of poverty – apparently backed up by statistics. According to Miller, although 15% of the U.S. population are ‘poor’ at any given time, the majority of those will move above the poverty line, to be replaced by other (temporarily) poor people – i.e. people who lost their job a month before the census and have no income, but will soon return to work. Miller says that only about 3% of the population are ‘long-term, generationally poor.’
Highlight 2: What happens when users pay for services
This section also really reflected my experience at the charity I work for, where a switch to a ‘user pays’ model of service (rather than a purely donation-based, ‘charitable’ model) made us more responsive to the needs of our users, and drove up the quality of what we do. Here’s Miller:
Mauricio Miller: …I wouldn’t bring my own family through [my own social services]; now I had money–
Russ Roberts: Why not?
Mauricio Miller: Because they were paternalistic. My mother hated that. She said, ‘The social workers are really nice, but they take away my pride.’ And certainly the racists would take away her pride, too. You know. And sexual harassers would take away her pride. But even the people who were trying to be really nice would take her pride away. And so, that was one of the issues. The other issue is that the programs that I had were sold–and the structures were to sell to get funding. Funders don’t really understand circumstances on the ground. But, they get certain interests. And so you have to shape your program based on what they kind of want in order to get the money. And that, then you are held accountable to those kind of standards. Where, I actually had started two businesses within my own non-profit, that, when you are running a business, you have to meet the customer demand. Not the investor demand. You have to really meet the customer demand. And so, somehow or other, when I wanted to adjust my programs, they were not responsive to my customers. And so, for me, my social service programs were too structured, too paternalistic. They did not recognize or meet that market demand. And now that I was middle income and had money, I would instead, when I had to help my nephew and nieces who struggled with drugs and all kinds of things, I would go to private sector services, because they would say, ‘Do you want us to send the advisor on the weekend, or the evenings?’ Or, ‘What’s convenient for you?’ and ‘Would you like this program?’ I was given choices. Because I had money. But people who were poor didn’t have those kind of choices. And so, why would I want to take my own family, that had struggled with everything that everybody else was struggling with what was out there in some of these neighborhoods: Why would I take them into a system that was so structured and was not responsive when I had money? So, money made a difference. And I realized that: No, I wouldn’t bring my own family.
Russ Roberts and Mauricio Miller – Econtalk
In the end, I wasn’t completely convinced with Miller’s model – or didn’t feel completely clear about what he was offering – but these bits were excellent – and true.
Speaking of networks, here’s a way into network theory – a few videos from Clay Shirky that make a good introduction:
Ten Truths About Social Media
And a couple of TED talks…
Shirky on Econtalk
And finally, go here interview on Econtalk from 2008.
The blurb says…
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, talks about the economics of organizations with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The conversation centers on Shirky’s book. Topics include Coase on the theory of the firm, the power of sharing information on the internet, the economics of altruism, and the creation of Wikipedia.
Historian Niall Ferguson: “Globalization is in crisis. Populism is on the march. Authoritarian states are ascendant. Technology meanwhile marches inexorably ahead, threatening to render most human beings redundant or immortal or both. How do we make sense of all this?”
Ferguson analyzes the structure and prospects of “Cyberia” as yet another round in the endless battle between hierarchy and networks that has wrought spasms of innovation and chaos throughout history. He examines those previous rounds (including all that was set in motion by the printing press) in light of the current paradoxes of radical networking enabled by digital technology being the engine of massive hierarchical companies (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and their equivalents in China) and exploited by populists and authoritarians around the world.
He puts the fundamental question this way: “Is our age likely to repeat the experience of the period after 1500, when the printing revolution unleashed wave after wave of revolution? Will the new networks liberate us from the shackles of the administrative state as the revolutionary networks of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries freed our ancestors from the shackles of spiritual and temporal hierarchy? Or will the established hierarchies of our time succeed more quickly than their imperial predecessors in co-opting the networks, and enlist them in their ancient vice of waging war?”
If you’re doing meaningful work, you’re trying to hit a moving target, and your job isn’t made any easier by how fast the world is changing.
These resources should help you calibrate your ‘deflector gunsight’ by giving you a sense of where technology seems to be going, hopefully giving you a better task of hitting what you’re aiming for. This is one that I’ll update periodically, adding texture or new resources.
The Kevin Kelly Section
Kevin Kelly – co-founder of Wired magazine, omnivorous techno-hippy – gets his own section. He’s funny and humane, and good at identifying trends and tendencies in tech and extrapolating these into the future. One of the many helpful ideas I’ve taken from KK is the realisation that we’re actually only at the beginning of the computer revolution. It feels like something that’s already happened – ‘if only I’d made a website in 1993’ – but Kelly argues that a hundred years from now people people will look back on this time as a golden age and say, ‘I wish I’d started then.’