Weekly reads 2016–12–06

Interesting article on how biased is the american distribution of votes, giving the rural population a disproportionate power (17% of the population can get a Senate majority). It looks like it all comes from the foundation of the country:

Jefferson and James Madison argued that the strength of the nation would always derive from its agrarian soil. “They had this vision of what they called the ‘yeoman farmer’: this independent, free-standing person who owed nothing to anybody, who didn’t receive any payments from the government, who didn’t live by a wage, but who could support himself and his family on a farm growing everything they needed — and that these were the people who were going to be the backbone of democracy”

A few years ago it looked like everyone was going to have a 3D printer by now, and some people bet on it. They got it wrong. A long article by The Backchannel Team on the rise and fall on Makerboot and their 3D printers.

In The end of capitalism has begun Paul Mason talks about post-capitalism, its currency — free time, networked activity and free stuff — and how among other things this a consequence of a wrong focus of the current economy.

As a result, large parts of the business class have become neo-luddites. Faced with the possibility of creating gene-sequencing labs, they instead start coffee shops, nail bars and contract cleaning firms: the banking system, the planning system and late neoliberal culture reward above all the creator of low-value, long-hours jobs.

Related with this “low-value, long-hours jobs”, Naked Capitalism has published a (long and detailed) four part series (1, 2, 3, 4) titled Can Uber Ever Deliver?

Uber Is Staggeringly Unprofitable, Is the Industry’s High Cost Producer, Cannot “Grow Into Profitability”, and Has no Meaningful Competitive Advantages

They talk about how Uber is still a heavily subsidized business (customers only pay 41% of the total cost, they have negative profit margins of 140%, 2 billion in subsidies annually); how nobody has ever been able to scale a taxi business “empire” beyond a city but Uber pretends to do it without any innovation (at least until self-driving cars are a reality) and way bigger costs (development, marketing, subsidies…); how they took advantage of information asymmetries between individual drivers and them, failing to disclose the financial risk of being fired at any moment while having to pay for a car, or directly lying on the real incomes (the median incomes are far from the 90K/year advertised for NY or the 75K for SF); and how getting bigger does not help in new markets (their expansion costs have increased dramatically outside USA). Time will say.

Meanwhile, Juno takes on Uber, offering better commissions for drivers — only 10%, that Uber says is unsustainable, vs their own 25% or more — but more importantly, offering also ownership over half the two billions shares of the company to those same drivers, though some experts say Uber is so big now, at least in the USA, that it’s impossible to compete with it. The four co-founders previously sold the messaging app Viber for $900M, wanted to start something “sociably responsible” so went into the gig economy trying to improve the conditions of the workers.

“Look, the sharing economy is fascinating on one end, but, at the same time, without the proper checks and balances, we’re going back to fifteen-year-old textile workers in Brooklyn working eighteen hours a day. The platform controls you, and there’s always going to be somebody willing to do the same work for a penny less. And that model just squeezes everything out of you, out of the lower class. At least until the point in time when they come with the pitchforks.”
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