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Posts Tagged ‘economic development

“Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men”*…

 

NIST_Precision_engineering_research

 

Scientists and engineers recognize an elusive but profound difference between precision and accuracy. The two qualities often go hand in hand, of course, but precision involves an ideal of meticulousness and consistency, while accuracy implies real-world truth. When a sharpshooter fires at a target, if the bullets strike close together—clustered, rather than spread out—that is precise shooting. But the shots are only accurate if they hit the bull’s eye. A clock is precise when it marks the seconds exactly and unvaryingly but may still be inaccurate if it shows the wrong time. Perversely, we sometimes value precision at the expense of accuracy…

What makes precision a feature of the modern world is the transition from craftsmanship to mass production. The genius of machine tools—as opposed to mere machines—lies in their repeatability. Artisans of shoes or tables or even clocks can make things exquisite and precise, “but their precision was very much for the few… It was only when precision was created for the many that precision as a concept began to have the profound impact on society as a whole that it does today.” That was John Wilkinson’s achievement in 1776: “the first construction possessed of a degree of real and reproducible mechanical precision—precision that was measurable, recordable, repeatable.”…

Replication and standardization are so hard-wired into our world that we forget how the unstandardized world functioned. A Massachusetts inventor named Thomas Blanchard in 1817 created a lathe that made wooden lasts for shoes. Cobblers still made the shoes, but now the sizes could be systematized. “Prior to that,… shoes were offered up in barrels, at random. A customer shuffled through the barrel until finding a shoe that fit, more or less comfortably.”…

James Gleick reviews– and responds to– Simon Winchester‘s The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World:  “Masters of Tolerance.”

[Image above: precision engineering research at the National Institute for Standards and Technology]

* Theodor Adorno

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As we contemplate craft, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Lewis Mumford; he was born on this date in 1895.  A historian, sociologist, philosopher of technology, and cultural critic, Mumford is probably best remembered for his writings on cities, perhaps especially for his award-winning book The City in History.  (See also The City— the extraordinary film that Mumford made with Ralph Steiner and Wiilard Van Dyne, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with a score by Aaron Copland.) 

Mumford’s approaches to technology, its history, and its roles in society were acknowledged influences on writers like Jacques Ellul, Witold Rybczynski, Amory Lovins, E. F. Schumacher, Herbert Marcuse, Thomas Merton, and Marshall McLuhan.  In a similar way, he was an inspiration for the organicist and environmentalist movements of today.

Unfortunately, once an economy is geared to expansion, the means rapidly turn into an end and “the going becomes the goal.” Even more unfortunately, the industries that are favored by such expansion must, to maintain their output, be devoted to goods that are readily consumable either by their nature, or because they are so shoddily fabricated that they must soon be replaced. By fashion and build-in obsolescence the economies of machine production, instead of producing leisure and durable wealth, are duly cancelled out by the mandatory consumption on an even larger scale.

– Lewis Mumford, The City in History

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Written by LW

October 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”*…

 

moving-mountains

 

In America, average income has been basically flat for five decades as economic gains increasingly go to a tiny minority at the top of the income bracket. But American wage stagnation is only a small part of a larger global story — one that is summarized in a fascinating new graph. Swedish statistics professor Michael Höhle put together a fascinating visualization of the distribution of incomes, adjusted for inflation, in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe between 1950 and 2015.

It’s rare to find a data visualization with so much information in it. You could watch this over and over and over again and notice a new thing every time. Two big trends, for instance, are the increase in population in Asia over time, and the huge improvements in real income for Asians since 1950. Another less obvious trend is that European incomes more or less stopped gaining ground in the 1990s. Then there’s the disturbing thickening of African incomes on the left side of the graph starting around 2000, representing so many people who’ve been left behind by global economic growth…

Höhle is visualizing date from Factfulness, the last book from the late (and dearly missed) Hans Rosling (see here, here, and here).  Read more at “A Fascinating Visualization Of How Income Has Changed Around The World Since 1950” and learn more of Höhle’s method here.

* Confucius

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As we deliberate on distribution, we might send inclusive birthday greetings to Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai; he was born on this date in 1940.  An Indian-born U.K. economist and Labour politician, he is the first non-UK born candidate to stand for the position of Lord Speaker in the British House of Lords.

220px-Official_portrait_of_Lord_Desai_crop_2 source

 

Written by LW

July 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”*…

 

Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, and nothing went to the bottom 50%.

Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich are men. Governments must create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful…

Late last month, Oxfam released its annual Inequality Report.  As Felix Salmon observes, it’s powerful stuff:

At the end of this crazy bull market, it’s always worth remembering just how enormous the big winners’ gains have been.

Specifically, the world’s billionaires – the richest 2,000 people on the planet – saw their wealth increase by a staggering $762 billion in just one year. That’s an average of $381 million apiece. If those billionaires had simply been content with staying at their 2016 wealth, and had given their one-year gains to the world’s poorest people instead, then extreme poverty would have been eradicated. Hell, they could have eradicated extreme poverty, at least in theory, by giving up just one seventh of their annual gains.

Oxfam is absolutely right, then, to shine a light on the extreme inequality of the world in 2017. Wealth creation is all well and good, but giving new wealth primarily to the world’s billionaires is literally the worst possible way to distribute it. Oxfam’s longstanding proposal for a wealth tax on billionaires makes perfect sense. They don’t need the money; the world’s poorest do. What’s more, as the Oxfam report details, the top 1% too often make their money by exploiting the very poor. Nothing about this is just, especially when a good 35% of billionaire wealth was simply inherited…

You can download the report (pdf) here; it is well worth the read.

* Nelson Mandela

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As we rethink “fair’s fair,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that University College London was founded.  Originally known as London University, it was inspired by the (then) radical ideas of Jeremy Bentham (one of the founders) and created as an alternative to the Anglican universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  UCL was the first secular university in the UK (admitting students regardless of their religion) and the first to admit women.  It is currently the third largest university in the United Kingdom by total enrollment (and largest by postgraduate enrollment), and is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery”*…

 

A survey of 43 countries published on October 30th by the Pew Research Centre of Washington, DC, shows that people in emerging markets are within a whisker of expressing the same level of satisfaction with their lot as people in rich countries. The Pew poll asks respondents to measure, on a scale from zero to ten, how good their lives are. (Those who say between seven and ten are counted as happy.) In 2007, 57% of respondents in rich countries put themselves in the top four tiers; in emerging markets the share was 33%; in poor countries only 16%—a classic expression of the standard view that richer people are more likely to be happy. But in 2014, 54% of rich-country respondents counted themselves as happy, whereas in emerging markets the percentage jumped to 51%…

More at “Money and Happiness.”

* Groucho Marx

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As we wander past a warm gun, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that British archaeologist Howard Carter and his crew discovered a step leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  The subsequent discovery of Tut’s nearly-intact tomb was a world-wide sensation, and ignited renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which “King Tut”‘s burial mask, now in Cairo Museum, remains the popular symbol.

(For an amusing– and enlightening– explication of “The Mummy’s Curse,” click here.)

Mask of Tutankhamun’s mummy

source

 

Written by LW

November 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

Show me the money…

Throughout history, artists have tended to cluster around centers of power and wealth… which is simply to observe that they’ve honored Willie Sutton’s wisdom: “that’s where the money is”; they’ve set up their easels (or pianos or footlights or whatever) where they can find patrons and customers.  But those centers of cultural gravity tend to be expensive places to live– increasingly, so expensive that aspiring artists can’t even afford a garret in which to starve.  E.g., aspiring artists who want to join the community that migrated from Greenwich Village to Soho to Tribeca, then to Brooklyn, and on to Hoboken are beginning to find even that Jersey shore too pricey…

At the same time, new centers of wealth and power are emerging around the world, and with them, new communities of artists and performers.  Indeed, as Richard Florida and others suggest, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the growth of a “Creative Class” in a community and that community’s ability to innovate and succeed commercially.  A rich artistic and cultural life doesn’t assure a city’s commercial success, but its absence is a pretty good indicator of commercial mediocrity (or worse).

So one indicator of areas that are contenders to be “the next hot region” is the sprouting of the arts there.    Consider, for example…

Brazil’s most creative neighborhood is far from the beaches of Rio, in loud and brash São Paulo, South America’s answer for New York City. And you can expect one thing from this loud, raw urban metropolis — a lot of really colorful, politically-charged street art. Large neon pieces of work show up everywhere from dilapidated buildings to enormous billboards, and in the ultimate nod to creativity, esteemed museum MuBE, the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, hosted actual gallery space for some of São Paulo’s most well-known graffiti artists to promote their work. Unlike certain places, this is a city that fosters young talent.

If digital is your medium, you won’t find a better place to be right now than Jakarta. Indonesia has more Facebook users than Canada has people, and internet cafes are a daily visit. Investors from the West have their eye on mobile, broadcasting and start-ups, all growing trends across the country that make it easy for youngsters to take to their own businesses. Creative collectives like Askara, a bookstore where the hip commune, Serrum, a community for arts education, and Kampong Segart, a student art union, give the space and inspiration for this new wave of Indonesian trend makers.

Visit six other candidate cities– including two, Macao and Las Vegas, that are better known for shilling than selling– at Flavorwire’s “The Best Cities for Young Artists.”

As we get in touch with our inner expatriate, we might wish an elegantly-laid out and well-groomed Happy Birthday to Frederick Law Olmsted; he was born on this date in 1822.  A journalist, social critic, public administrator, Olmsted is best remembered as the greatest American landscape architect of the 19th century.  While the title “Father of American Landscape Architecture” probably belongs to Andrew Jackson Downing, Olmsted was unquestionably the primary agent of the discipline’s growth and adoption.   Olmsted’s most famous commission was Central Park in New York; but he also designed city parks in St. Louis, Boston, and many other cities; the grounds around the Capitol in Washington, D.C.; the Niagra Reservation, one the countries first planned communities; the master plans for universities including UC-Berkley and Stanford (among other universities); and private estates like George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House in Asheville.

Olmsted at Biltmore House, by frequent house-guest John Singer Sargent (source)

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