Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Stewart Prest writes about the Cons' war against experts:
(I)n modern democratic states one of the most important sources for non-partisan information and expertise is the government itself. Government bureaucracies are the only institutions in the world today with the access, the resources, and the motivation to systematically monitor and study the entirety of a country’s population and the extent of its human and natural environment.

Examples are legion, from statisticians to health officials to diplomats to environmental scientists. They exist throughout the much maligned but nonetheless vital bureaucracy of the country. Crucially, their professional incentives push them to resist conclusions that may even be perceived as partisan. After all, a long-serving civil servant will work under different parties and political masters. Their professional success comes from striving to provide politically neutral advice and support for political decision-making, and engaging in equally neutral policy implementation. Though part of the machinery of the state, these experts are — or ought to be — distinct and largely independent from the particular partisan interests of the government of the day.
It is for this reason so alarming that, in field after field, this type of politically relevant, yet non-partisan expertise is being removed from public discourse. I see three mechanisms at work: expertise is consistently being suppressed, undermined, or — pardon the jargon — partisanized. Consequently, Canadian citizens and political leaders alike are operating with reduced access to expert information and judgment, precisely at a time when, given the spiralling complexity and competitiveness of the global environment, such advice has never been more important.
- Jeremy Rifkin notes that many theories about market functions are fast becoming obsolete as the cost of producing increasingly large groups of goods and services drops near zero.
A formidable new technology infrastructure — the Internet of Things — is emerging with the potential to push much of economic life to near zero marginal cost over the course of the next two decades. This new technology platform is beginning to connect everything and everyone. Today more than 11 billion sensors are attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks and recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores and vehicles, feeding big data into the Internet of Things. By 2020, it is projected that at least 50 billion sensors will connect to it.

People can connect to the network and use big data, analytics and algorithms to accelerate efficiency and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just as they now do with information goods. For example, 37 million buildings in the United States have been equipped with meters and sensors connected to the Internet of Things, providing real-time information on the usage and changing price of electricity on the transmission grid. This will eventually allow households and businesses that are generating and storing green electricity on-site from their solar and wind installations to program software to take them off the electricity grid when the price spikes so they can power their facilities with their own green electricity and share surplus with neighbors at near zero marginal cost.

Cisco forecasts that by 2022, the private sector productivity gains wrought by the Internet of Things will exceed $14 trillion. A General Electric study estimates that productivity advances from the Internet of Things could affect half the global economy by 2025.

THE unresolved question is, how will this economy of the future function when millions of people can make and share goods and services nearly free?
- Meanwhile, CBC takes a brief look at the causes and effects of growing income inequality as a global trend. And Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report on the connection between the Koch brothers and the tar sands - which of course links back to their funding to further the cause of wealth disparity.

- Armine Yalnizyan and Karl Nerenberg look back on austerity, inequality and the other legacies of Deficit Jim Flaherty. And Ron Waller approves of the NDP's opening observations about new Finance Minister Joe Oliver.

- Finally, Alex Boutilier reports on the Cons' efforts to hide any explanation for their Unfair Elections Act. But at least until it's officially muzzled, Elections Canada is doing its part to identify and warn the public about electoral fairness issues before it's too late. 

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