I started to subscribe to Benedict Evan’s newsletter a couple of months ago, and it never fails to identify an interesting article or two. The most recent issue highlighted this article from Bloomsburg Business News, and reading it prompted two quick thoughts:
- The Chinese are so concerned about global warming and the damage it’s doing that they are taking some pretty drastic steps, including banning all fossil fuel-powered cars by what looks like 2040 (they haven’t said exactly when yet).
BYD Electric Vehicle at a car show in China
- While the American tech market is driven by big personalities and the alpha male culture that we seem to believe drives business success, this company – BYD – dwarfs the production of other electronic vehicle producers.
- They have done this by concentrating less on the whims of a charismatic owner (*cough*, some guy whose first name rhymes with “belon” and whose last name is most often associated with deer, *cough*) and more on what needs to be done.
- They have also made huge government investments in these countries. I’m not going to pretend to understand the way that investment works in a mixed economy like China, but after the uproar about “bailing out” American car companies and I can’t imagine that Americans will suddenly think that having governments invest in private companies is a good idea.
- Doing R and D through universities is something else, but even that is a tough sell for a lot of folks…
Maybe we will figure it out anyway?
Kessler’s Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work is a sobering look at the rise and very quick fall of the gig economy. She pays particular attention to some of the positive stories within it in addition to chronicling the myriad problems, and the second half of her title feels particularly accurate as she looks carefully at the options that employees (and to some extent employers) have as their jobs disappear.
- The format of the book moves from case studies of employees (and one employer) to a bit more extensive look at the nature of work, all of this backed by Kessler’s work at Quartz.
- It features stories of some who have made it in the gig economy, some who have done okay, some who have been harmed by it. None of the stories are easy or simple, and even the gig economy thriver (a programmer from New York) provides one of the ending stories by taking a full-time job with SpaceX.
- Kessler raises many of the questions we need to raise, and finishes by noting that if we are to implement a gig economy we will need to provide much more infrastructure support.
- It sounds as if some politicians are trying (she interviews Mark Warner from Virginia, who has introduced legislation to help gig workers and the Obama administration implemented a policy or two), and some unions are trying to address labor concerns as well, but the task is a tremendously difficult one, especially in an environment of fear.
- I found particularly compelling her look at the ways in which even companies that try to do the right thing struggle because of the enormity of the task at hand, and I think of John Rawls’s good capitalist. Being a good capitalist requires an intentionality that is tremendously difficult, and in Rawls’s configuration results in the company either being bought or going out of business.
- Rawls’s depiction feels pretty accurate at this point, despite lots of tech company bullshit about being pro-worker.
- Her look at unions comes in stark contrast to McClelland’s nostalgia for hard-line, old-school, fight-the-boss-at-all-costs union workers of the pre-NAFTA days. I’m pretty sure I get both, and McClelland may eventually be right in that the only response to corporate and 1 percent greed lies in direct, intentional, uncompromising resistance, but my wimpy side says that I’m not willing to pay the cost – unlike several of the folks who McClelland interviewed.
- This look is encompassed within a broader section that looks at responses to the conditions that employees find themselves in. She seems particularly sympathetic to the effects that fighting this economy will have, and two of her stars – a woman who has decided to become a lawyer fighting for the rights of workers based on her experience at Mechanical Turk, and a young man in rural Arkansas trying to better understand how to help poor people become more financially secure.
- She also highlights the increasing immobility of class in the US, citing this study.
- She briefly mentions robots and AI, noting that AI will replace many of the most vulnerable jobs in our economy. She also in a very reporter-like fashion talks about UBI, and she comes to no conclusions about it.
This job posting came across one of the listserves I read last night. It lists a tenure-track position in media studies, big data, and health care, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to apply for it myself. The job seems to be a beautiful clashing of discplinary walls that offers to do what universities, ideally, do best – research, reflect, plan, create, gather resources, and analyze.
Coupled with an article like this one from Forbes, it also hints at the types of collaborations that are necessary, I think, if we are to create the sorts of structures that new economic development can come from. Billy Beane is a believer in data (despite the fact that the A’s spent a month crashing to reality without Cespedes), and yet he deals in a game that has always been as much about touch and feel as any hard science. I don’t want to romanticize Beane – there is more than a bit of arrogance in him that comes with the job – but his ability to navigate two seemingly disparate geographies points to a place of intersection or interruption or disruption that digital humanities can provide, if we are smart and quick and flexible enough. As much as we might think otherwsie, we do not have a monopoly on ethics, but our different perspective (and ability to look at problems from many different directions) should be an invaluable component of any collaborative efforts to address the types of questions that MSU is asking the person who takes that job to look at.
Just remembered a professor from a rival school of ours who had lunch with us in Castel Gandolfo last year. He has worked hard to put together this university’s study abroad program, but I found him a bit full of himself.
Why this matters, I guess, is that I have been thinking a lot lately about management and leadership. I often exist in this bubble in which I want to believe that leadership comes about from sheer competence, nothing else, and that human mentors and leaders mentor and lead in ways of which I approve – collegially, humbly, rationally, empathetically. I’m getting better at *not* being disappointed when the folks who I think should be leaders and mentors don’t act this way, but I still wonder at the possibilities.
Thus my example above – the guy simply liked to hear himself talk, and didn’t seem much interested in listening. He also wanted to be the most adventurous male in the room, posturing that to me seems sort of ridiculous, and not at all indicative of what actual leadership and mentoring entails.
I’ll have to explore later why I can’t seem to write the word ‘leadership’ without closely following it with ‘mentoring’…