For society to survive, contributions of all kinds must be rewarded

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Credit: Giacoff/iStock/Getty. Why am I illustrating an essay about labor with an image of child care? Read on.

More and more jobs are vanishing, and they aren’t going to come back.

But it’s a weird sort of vanishing. Until the late ’70s, our increasing worker productivity meant more pay per worker, and a drop in prices of goods. At that point, we started to need fewer workers to make all the stuff anyone would want, and that meant that wages dropped, too. Some of this briefly got hidden by “offshoring” — it was cheaper to move manufacturing to China, then to Bangladesh, and so on — but now those countries are starting to see automation take jobs away, too. …


How do you reintegrate someone into society after they have participated in mass violence, like war or crimes against humanity?

This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When at peace, it seems impossibly distant or subject to easy answers; when at war, the question of how to reintegrate the people trying to kill you into society seems obscene. But it is an extremely important practical question, and if you haven’t spent time on it, you may not be aware of how important it is to understanding both our history and current events: we live in the aftermath of its successes and failures. …


The meaning of International Labor Day

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Retired Work Boots,” by wormwould.

Today is a day to recommit ourselves to the idea that human beings have value beyond their industrial productivity, and that people’s labor has value beyond what they receive in wages.

To the idea that people are more than “human resources” — an expense to be managed so that the “true owners” of a joint enterprise, its stockholders, can receive their just dividends.

To the idea that free trade is a profoundly enriching force in our society — but only when the trade is actually free. …


The Devil is in the Details

Apple has agreed that the encryption keys for iCloud user accounts for Chinese persons will be stored in China, as Reuters reported today.

If you aren’t familiar with Chinese law and the situation around this, this may seem relatively innocuous: a company is doing business in a country, and complying with that country’s local laws. What’s significant about this is that it represents a major change in how legal process works.

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Shanghai from a Different Angle,” by sama093

Under most countries’ laws, people have some kind of rights around their own information. The government has the right to demand such information subject to things like subpoenas and warrants; those have to be signed by judges, and the recipient of one of them can immediately go to the judge and contest them, as well as contest the use of any evidence derived later based on evidence collected illegally. That is, there’s legal process between governments and people’s data — and companies which deal in user data fight this process aggressively, because their users’ trust ultimately depends on it. …


It’s both more serious and less serious than we’ve admitted

I’ve recently seen a lot of very anxious responses from people in tech at anything which suggests that their “core skills” may be devalued, especially in favor of other skills which they haven’t spent their lives on. Most importantly, this shows up in the argument over “hard” versus “soft” skills. That anxiety is itself a signal of how important this has become. But there’s a hidden assumption we’ve been making that (I suspect) has increased the anxiety far out of proportion: and maybe perversely, it comes from not taking soft skills seriously enough.


Understanding money, inequality, and why the tax bill is important

Imagine that today you accidentally got overcharged $1 somewhere, and a week from now they realized this and gave you your dollar back. On the whole, this might be annoying, but it probably won’t be a big deal to you. Not having that dollar likely didn’t affect your life in any material way; the “opportunity cost” you lost out on could probably be well-summarized by the interest rate on a dollar for a week.

That means that an unexpected expense of $1 basically costs you $1. …


Or, a way to find books we want to read

The genres of story we most often hear about are really marketing categories: romance, science fiction, classic literature. Like all categories, they are sometimes useful and often fail. (And not “fail” in some abstract or theoretical sense, but in the very concrete sense of not helping you find something to read, so that you find yourself reading Medium articles instead!)

A few years ago, I came across an interesting theory of how to divide up stories implied in a talk by Lois McMaster Bujold: that stories are most usefully divided not by their structural elements, or their set dressing, but by the type of emotional experience they try to create. Romances, in this model, are fantasies of love; mysteries may be fantasies of justice or of understanding, and the latter category is shared with spy thrillers and Lovecraftian horror. …


Blue checkmarks are a problem.

On social networks, they’re meant to indicate some bare factual statement, like “we [Twitter, Google, YouTube, Facebook] know who this person is and can confirm that they’re famous.” But it was inevitable that they would end up being interpreted as “this is a special person you should listen to;” that they would be treated as a mark of distinction, not just a mark of some fact. This interpretation didn’t just affect the public; it even affected the companies themselves, as different product teams started using checkmarks to enable features like different notification experiences or abuse pipelines. …


Entering the Post-American Century

Brief summary, for those not up to date on today’s news: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, has decided to consolidate his power rather forcefully, arresting ten prominent princes, including the leader of the National Guard, ministers, and the like for corruption, and simply killing two others. This comes a month after Jared Kushner visited, spending several days staying up well into the night with MBS. David Ignatius gives a good summary at the Washington Post.

Just to make this more complicated, yesterday Saad al-Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon and son of Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese PM assassinated by Syria in 2005, came to visit Riyadh and abruptly announced his resignation, claiming that Iran and Hezbollah were planning to assassinate him, as well. He is currently hiding out at an “undisclosed location.” …


A model for understanding what’s going on today

I want to tell you a story about something that happened in the news a few days ago. Even though it didn’t turn into a giant disaster, it accidentally revealed a lot about what’s really going on in the United States right now — and may offer us a clue to understand the situation we’re in.

1: Cojones

Last week, ex-general John Kelly made public remarks that many interpreted as testing the waters for military rule. He explained how only members of the military, and the families of those killed in combat, can really understand the nature of government and legitimately criticize the President — unlike civilian members of Congress, or the press. The next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on the point, saying it is “highly inappropriate” for a (civilian) reporter “to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” — this despite the fact that Kelly is no longer a general, that civilian control over the military is a bedrock of the American system, or that this “debate” was over the fact that Kelly had provably lied several times in his remarks that previous day. …

About

Yonatan Zunger

Either political analysis of authoritarian regimes, or interesting facts about science, depending on my mood.

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