It’s been a few weeks since I compiled a list of the articles that I have been reading – hoping to make a little headway against the backlog with this post.
A number of the articles that have been floating around have to do with data – how we use it, control it, and what we should do about it. I think we have all known how much data there is on each and every one of us out there, but all of the recent developments have been illuminating in who has access to it and what they can use it for.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/magazine/the-obama-campaigns-digital-masterminds-cash-in.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&adxnnlx=1371921826-rm%2051XvsMALZSwKnEKfgYg – The NYTimes posted a long article this week on some of the ways that recently victorious political campaigns have used data to their advantage, and it’s a great read. Frankly, its surprising that with so much at stake this didn’t happen a lot sooner. When the votes were counted, I wonder how much these analytics capabilities specifically were worth. In some sense, it is sad that the quality of the organization and activities of the campaign can have such important effects on the outcome relative to the messaging and policies that are actually being proposed. Marketing seems to trump the policy dimension. Additionally, with so much of the data coming from external sources (Facebook agreed that its terms of service were not being violated, but how much power could it have had to make the decision either way?), could we conceivably have data that was given to one campaign and not the other? This is what is so troubling about the NSA’s data collection or the IRS asking for donor lists – especially with the endemic lack of transparency, how can we be sure that the data is not used in an unfair or illegal manner?
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/05/update-email-privacy-law-must-go-further – One of the biggest legislative holes that we have is in email. Our law has not caught up to the realities of what email communication is, how personal it is, and how it needs to be protected. Phone calls, physical mail, and other communication has strict standards for access, and a default that prevents its use without probable cause. We need to update our laws for email privacy. The EFF is passionate about this and has a lot of good information on it.
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/prism-is-bad-for-american-soft-power/277015/ – Even as our power begins to fade, the US still sets the tone for governmental engagement around the world, and historically (again, people love to argue about this) we have largely pursued an agenda of freedom and openness around the globe. How can we be the ‘city on a hill’ with regards to freedom when we so blatantly disregard those tenants within our own borders? How can we be a good example for those countries around the world which are coming into power and maintain more oppressive stances to their citizens than we do? We do not want to set the precedent for the coming century by weakening the freedom of the individual.
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/06/the-irrationality-of-giving-up-this-much-liberty-to-fight-terror/276695/ – Terrorism is sensational – unexpected, unpredictable, fear inspiring, and often theatrical in character. The same reasons that psychologically cause us to fear airplanes more than automobiles causes us to be irrational about the dangers of terrorism, and too apt to surrender our freedoms to protect ourselves.
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/06/majority-senate-skipped-classified-prism-briefing/66273/ – Good to know the Senate cares so much.
Switching gears, there have also been a number of articles dealing with another one of the issues of our time. How can we deal with free markets as well as income inequality? What are the main causes of income inequality and how to we rectify them? I would like to study this a bit more, but wanted to pass along a few articles that I’ve seen dealing with the topic in recent days.
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/06/rip-american-dream-why-its-so-hard-for-the-poor-to-get-ahead-today/276943/ – Education is always cited as the answer that can help equalize the opportunity available to folks despite the situations that they were born into. However, as is pretty clear, income is predictive of income between generations, and it has gotten worse. Much of it is the result of poorer students not having the information, or present means, to apply to colleges.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/11/thinking-utopian-how-about-a-universal-basic-income/ – Interesting look into a possible policy to lower income inequality. A universal basic income is one method to do this, as is a high minimum wage, welfare/social security and other safety net programs, the earned income tax credit and other tax policies. Which is the most effective way to distribute dollars, flatten the Gini coefficient, and not preclude folks from taking risks and being productive? This is an interesting economic as well as philosophical question – one I will hopefully dive in to in later posts when I can explore some Rawls and Nozick.
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/06/forget-what-government-i-should-i-do-what-can-it-do/276546/ – We do spend too much time focusing on the left-to-right dimension of government, and not the better-to-worse (effectiveness) dimension, holding the scope of activities constant. I read a statistic recently of how the VA still uses paper forms, so thousands of cases are not handled before the former service members dies. Technology could be an easy way to automate and streamline a number of the activities of government.